For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (email@example.com)
* * * * *
Chapter 19: Fear of a Name [i]
Striker was woken by a flurry of muted activity. Doors opening and closing. The creak of the stairs. Water splashing in old pipes. The sound of voices downstairs.
It was hot. Hotter than yesterday. The humidity replaced her duvet that had bunched itself at her feet during the night. The curtains hung motionless at the open window. The outside air felt tired.
Slipping on a pair of boxers under her t-shirt, she padded downstairs.
They were in the kitchen, Sullivan at the table, shovelling cornflakes into his mouth and splashing milk on a loud and indiscriminate tie. Morien at the sink, dividing food into three bowls, a furry expectation of cats winding round her bare legs: black and tabby. Only two for breakfast. She was talking to them in Welsh, the words indistinct, but her tone soft and expressive and wonderfully warm. Her head was bare, the long auburn strands pushed behind her ears and dancing on her forehead, the crimson scar vivid under ginger fuzz. It didnt matter to Striker. The scar was part of Morien, therefore it was beautiful.
Morien was still wearing pyjamas, short, stripy-pink pyjamas that bared her arms and drew to a loving finish at her lower thigh. Strikers eyes flittered up, but found themselves alighting on the rounded perch of a slim buttock, the stripy material stretched across it .
"Good morning." The voice made her jump, and she looked up to meet Sullivans eyes, twinkling, warning, twinkling .
Yeah, thats right, asshole, get caught ogling his daughter.
"Hi, Striker." Morien looked up from her work, her eyes sparkling.
"Morning," Striker replied, smiling at her, and then glancing sheepishly at Sullivan.
"Well have to take the bus to Caernarfon," Morien said. "Dads taking the car."
It was Sullivans turn to look shamefaced. "Sorry," he said. "Youre welcome to drive the old banger any time, Striker. I can add you to the insurance if you want. But Ive got piles of books to take in this morning."
"Thats fine," Striker replied, quietly relieved that she wouldnt have to drive the ancient Volvo.
"But make sure the two of you take an umbrella. Its likely to rain later." Morien rolled her eyes and smiled at Striker behind her fathers back. She then bent to place the bowls of cat food on the floor by the back door, only to gift Striker with the subtle play of muscles up the back of her legs, and again the material straining against the neat mounds . She just wanted to touch .
A spoon clattered in its bowl, and Striker jumped. But Sullivan got up from the table, his back to her, heading towards the sink. "Mo, love, you wouldnt mind would you?"
"Yes, dad, I only came up here to do your washing up for you," Morien scolded, but her tone was good-natured.
"Ill do the washing up," Striker said.
Morien looked at her, dubiously. "You wash up?"
* * * * *
They had handed the council printout to Idomeneo at Caernarfon Police Station. He had taken it with a slowly raised eyebrow and, Striker thought, the faintest gleam of one-upmanship. Undeniable proof that linked Gilbert Lamprey directly to both the East Metropolitan Borough Council and the buildings on Tumblety Street.
And so she registered, and Striker West was officially under the watchful eye of Detective Inspector Jones.
They found a café and enjoyed a light lunch. A salad for Morien, a steak sandwich without the garnish for Striker, who then spent the rest of the meal stealing tomato slices from Moriens plate.
"Why dont you order your own salad?"
"It tastes better this way."
Striker wouldnt have dared do this a week ago. Morien smiled to herself, secretly thrilled that her friendship with Striker had become so strong, and slapped her hand playfully as she allowed the American to pilfer another piece of tomato.
Caernarfon staggered under the oppressive heat. They had wandered down streets, window-shopping, and finally explored the stone-cool of the castle, but now stood on the parapet of the West Gate, trying to catch the faintest breath of wind from the Menai Strait. But the air seemed trapped between the island of Anglesey and the mainland. Striker wondered, for the umpteenth time, why she had brought her jacket.
She had dressed to look smart for the police station at least smart for her. Plain white t-shirt, tucked into black jeans (to Moriens secret delight) and her big, black boots. She was going to leave the jacket.
But, "Its going to rain", Sullivan had said, the weather forecasters had said, and Morien had said as they had walked out of the front door. "Do you want an umbrella?" shed been asked. Striker had opted instead for her familiar leather to keep her dry, only to find herself sitting under brilliant sunshine, the sky stalwartly blue, with not a cloud in sight.
"Anglesey looks like a dreamland," Morien said, abstractedly. "Its like the airs too thick to see." She leaned against the parapet, her head down.
"You all right?" Striker asked, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Morien looked up at her. "Just a little too tired and a little too hot. I didnt sleep too well last night, and my pills sometimes make me ." She trailed off as if Striker would understand.
"Come on, lets get into the shade." Striker guided her backwards, and they sat down in the shadow of the castle walls, the ancient stone seeming cool despite the weather. "Wheres the umbrella?"
Morien pulled the small fold-up out of her bag, and Striker opened it, positioning it in such a way that they were further sheltered from the sun.
An arm slid round Moriens shoulders, and the Welsh woman found her head resting gently on the broad shoulder. She shut her eyes and felt Strikers featherlight fingers brushing strands of hair from her forehead. It felt wonderful, cooling she sighed.
Then the sonorous, balmy voice in her ear. "When I was growing up, my mom would read all these stories to me about princes and princesses who lived in these great castles. King Arthur in Camelot. Pwylls court at Arbeth. Rapunzel in her tower. I would dream of living in a castle, being one of those princesses. Hell, being one of those princes." Morien chuckled, drowsily. "I wanted to make friends with dragons, and battle giants and see if there were fairies at the bottom of the yard."
A seagull called from somewhere above them, but even its cry muted in the heat. And then the sweet, low voice.
"But it was always in my head, never real. Philadelphias a great city, with some amazing buildings maybe Ill take you there one day but the only castles I knew were skyscrapers. Castles werent real. Princes and princesses and knights in shining armour didnt exist. And then my mom, who came from this land with all this history and all these stories, vanished, and I would sometimes wonder if shed ever existed either."
Morien shifted an arm across Strikers stomach, returning her comfortable embrace.
"And then I came to Britain, and everywhere I looked there were old buildings. So the kings and queens werent what I wanted them to be, and the knights didnt wear shining armour, but the castles were there. And maybe that meant there were dragons and giants, and that my mom was ."
Striker felt a cool flutter on her neck. Moriens eyes were closed, and her breathing smooth and even. Gentle perspiration gave her a look of sweet glazing. Striker watched as a bead of sweat trailed from under her embroidered cream headscarf, down her neck and slithered further, disappearing into the folds of her white, sleeveless blouse.
Striker wanted to follow it she felt her tongue tingling with the thought of licking that sweet droplet from a smooth, succulent breast. But she swallowed a groan instead and allowed the flush of arousal to lull to an underscore.
This was heaven.
They had been through hell. They had had gangsters after them, and guns haunting them. They had seen violence and death. She was facing a drugs conviction. She was unemployed and guessed she had enough money to last her about a month, and that was before rent, bills and food. It was as hot as damnation .
But now Im the knight in the castle, and I have my princess sleeping in my arms. This is heaven. If I never touch her the way I want to touch her. If it all falls apart tomorrow, Ive had this.
* * * * *
They were awoken by a dark shadow. A man stood over them, silhouetted against the sun now lowering itself into the Menai Strait.
"Come on, ladies," he said, "castles closing soon."
"Wha ?" Morien murmured, blinking up at him. "What time is it?"
"Five to six, love, come on."
"Five to six?!" Moriens eyes were wide now. "Striker, come on . Dont forget the umbrella ."
They made it to the bus station in time to see their chosen transport heave down the road without them.
"Bloody hell," Morien said. "That was the last bus."
"Youre kidding?!" Striker panted, willing the bus driver to see them and do a quick u-turn. He didnt. "What are we going to do?"
Morien stared down the road. "Were either stuck here overnight, or were going to take the number sixty-two, get off at the closest stop to Lleuadraeth, and walk the rest of the way."
The thought of staying overnight in a motel room with Morien caroused in Strikers head. It made her feel drunk with possibility. The low hum of arousal suddenly started to crescendo.
And then the ugly face of pride appeared. She had very little money, and she couldnt let Morien pay for something else. The suns heat was no longer so strong, although it was still sticky with humidity. The walk wouldnt be too bad.
"What do you want to do?" she asked.
Morien looked at Striker, the same thoughts waltzing in her mind. But she felt tired and stiff and much as the idea of a night of forbidden passion in a low-price bed and breakfast tempted her . "Number sixty-two," she said.
* * * * *
This bus, like the first, rattled along the road as if wanting to shake its bolts loose. They had to hold on to the seat for dear life in order that they didnt end up on the floor, and they had to all but shout to be heard.
But the speed which the vehicle somehow managed to gain, caused a glorious breeze, which had them almost screaming with pleasure. It felt like a wonderful carnival ride. It felt as if they were children again. They thrilled with the pleasure of just being.
Their conversation twisted and turned with the bus, until Striker said, "So whats with Idomeneo?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean Idomeneo?"
Morien grinned. "Hell of a name to dump on a child, isnt it? His parents were leading lights in the local amateur operatic society." She looked at Strikers blank face. "Mozart."
"Oh. And hes got kids? What are they called? Rigoletto? Madam Butterfly ."
"La Traviata Jones. Has a ring to it, doesnt it?" She grinned. "Actually, you might have noticed, Idomeneos a big Dickens fan." She watched Strikers face change, her amusement growing with Strikers growing dismay, until she decided to put her out of her misery. "Martin, David, Nicholas and Philip ."
Striker let out a breath. "Shit and I thought there was some poor kid out there called Uriah ."
"His daughters called Bella, if that helps. And Philip really is known as Pip. And, at school, because every year had at least two David Joneses, let alone Davids, Idomeneos David was always referred to as Dai Dickens."
"Youre kidding me?!"
"No. In the end it became a game whenever a new David arrived. There was Dai Manchester, Dai Tardy cos he was always late Dai Crispy Duck ."
"Okay, now you really are kidding me ."
"No, really. His actual names David Wong. His family run the Lotus Flower restaurant on Glyndwr Street."
"You guys are nuts. Youre telling me there was a guy at your school named after Chinese food?"
"Whats the difference between that and being named after sporting ability?"
Striker felt the brief dulling of anger, and her voice quietened to a hiss. "Youre never going to let this go are you? Im just Striker, okay? Drop it!"
"Because it hurts."
"Its only a name."
"Not to me it isnt."
The bus groaned to a halt.
Morien suddenly got up, grabbing her bag. "This is our stop." She made her way down the aisle, Striker at her heels, and they found themselves on the grass verge of and otherwise deserted crossroads. As the bus drove off, Striker wondered if that was the last sign of civilisation.
"I told you we had to walk the rest of the way," Morien said, watching the final belch of exhaust from their transport.
"You did," Striker sighed. And then saw the concern on Moriens face. "What?"
Morien pointed and Striker looked.
Behind them, north towards Caernarfon, was deceptive blue. In front of them, in the direction of Lleuadraeth, the sky looked bruised. Greys, purples and an unhealthy looking yellow decorated the clouds which cascaded down to touch the hills. The rain was coming and coming fast.
"Oh shit," Striker said again, her face paled. "Um Morien ."
"I um kinda left the umbrella at the castle." Morien looked round at her, slowly. Her eyes were sharp green and unreadable. "Youve got your cellphone, havent you? Couldnt you call a cab or wont your dad be home by now or something?"
Morien smiled, grimly. "You cant get a signal out here the hills."
Striker looked down at her boots, as they toyed with a clump of grass. "Sorry."
"Youre an idiot," Morien said.
Morien grabbed her arm and pushed her forward. "Come on then, idiot, lets go get wet."
* * * * *
They walked in silence for a while along the rough, grass verge. A low hedge ran along the right side of the road. Beyond it was a grass field, devoid of its usual sheep. Sensible buggers, theyve found themselves some shelter somewhere, Morien thought. She couldnt figure out where. There wasnt a tree or a building that she could see. To their left the grass verge dropped to a steep bank at the bottom of which was a stream, sluggish in the yellow light. In the distance, on either side, rose hills, grey and hazy and in front of them, imagined rather than seen were the remote roofs of Lleuadraeth.
The world seemed silent: a strange, alien expectation. The calm before the mother of all storms.
Morien glanced up at Striker as she lit another cigarette. The hiss of the flame seemed to echo in the still air. She wondered what the tall woman was thinking. She wondered if she still felt the touch of their lips, a touch that had possessed Morien through the sticky night.
Friends kiss each other, a voice had argued. It was just a peck. Friends kiss each other. It was just a peck. Just a peck just a peck .
It meant nothing.
Striker isnt attracted to me, the voice had said. Why the hell would Striker be attracted to me?
But sometimes Morien imagined the way she looked at her . The way her lips had felt . The way her hands feel on me .
Striker isnt attracted to me. She said so.
And she would wake with a start, her body hot with sleep and want. And her hands shook with the need to touch herself and the fear of simply feeling.
She still felt tired, with the weight of the sky on her shoulders. She looked up at Striker again, lips wrapped round the cigarette. Her pale cheek showed the slightest discoloration in this odd light, and Morien realised with a judder of shock that that was not a reminder of Bruce; it had been made by her hand.
She wondered about Strikers anger, about her gentility, about the words that she had been speaking as Morien had drifted to sleep on the castle gate.
"Striker," she finally said, "Id like to help you find your mother."
Striker around at her. "You dont have to do that."
"I want to help, please let me."
"I dont know what you could do ."
"Well, what have done to find her so far?"
Striker sighed. "When I first arrived I placed an ad in a couple of national papers. Here ." She pulled her wallet from her jeans and unfolded a fragile piece of newspaper.
Seeking Judith Helena Bailey West, wife of Edward Clayton West of Philadelphia, U.S.A., daughter of the late Gerald and Elizabeth Bailey of Wimbledon, London. Last located in south-east London. If you have information, please contact .
Morien handed the advertisement back to Striker who refolded it and placed it, carefully, back in her wallet.
"I got a few leads, but they came to nothing. I placed ads in the local paper in West London where her family lived. Ive placed ads in the Surrey papers where her parents retired. Again, a few leads, a few time-wasters, but nothing. I place an ad every few weeks somewhere . You never know, right?" She shrugged, thumbs in pockets, cigarette clasped between two fingers. "And for a while Ive just been phoning. Ive called every West in the London telephone directories. Im now most of the way through the Baileys. When I finish them I guess Ill move on to the Surrey directory."
"Sometimes I think its making a difference. Sometimes I think Im getting somewhere. Sometimes someone will say, Oh, yeah, I know a Judith Bailey; except itll turn out this Judith married a Bailey and her birth name was Morgenstern. Or her second name was Ethel. Or she was born in some tiny town in western Australia." She blew out an annoyed lungful of smoke. "Then there are those who just put the phone down. Thats tough, you know? Im left with a dead line and the thought could the woman Ive just spoken to could she be my mother? Could I have spoken to my mother and not even have known it?" She sighed. "Or maybe Ive just been fucking with myself all this time and shes been dead for twenty two years." She glanced at Morien. "She sure as hell didnt die in London though."
And then, with a sizzle, her cigarette went out
Morien laughed. "Good shot!"
"Fuck, is everyone trying to make me quit?!" Striker said, staring up at the dark, wet sky.
And the heavens opened.
It was as if someone had overturned a divine bucket of water on the landscape. In barely a minute, both of them were soaked, hair and headwear plastered and clothes wringing wet.
"You know," Striker said above the downpour, slicking overlong, dripping bangs back from her face, her voice a crescendo of frustration, "I knew it was too good to be true. Its been three days since its rained. It had to rain. It always fucking rains in this stupid, godforsaken, fucking country."
"May I remind you who left the umbrella at the castle," Morien said.
"Stop fucking nagging," Striker said, sulkily and handed her jacket to Morien. Morien was tempted to take it, but she wasnt cold and she was already too wet for it to make a difference. She waved it away, something for which Striker couldnt help but be grateful, not because the jacket offered protection, but merely that Moriens white blouse was beginning to turn beautifully see-through. The rain sculpted her body, breasts seeming to swell further against the translucent material, two enticing tips straining beneath. She wore a delicate white bra, decorated by a restrained touch of lace. A picture of demure sensuality. Suddenly, Striker wanted to run her hands where the rain was running and she took a step forward.
A splash of water and a car hurtled towards them, sleek silver out of the storm. Its lights illuminating the rainfall like English arrows, and Morien, automatically, put her hand up to hail it. It slowed. Striker didnt move.
"Come on," Morien said. "This is not the main road into town. Its way past rush-hour. There wont be another chance of a lift."
Striker didnt move.
Morien started towards the car, which lay droning at the verge, a little way ahead, red tail-lights blaring in the green and grey. She looked back.
Striker didnt move.
Why did this seem wrong?
It was a Beemer.
A brand new, silver BMW.
And it reeked of money and power.
"Come on ."
She had a feeling, a deep-down, gut feeling that chilled her soul in the warm rain.
"Morien, dont ."
Ahead the car door opened, flooding the interior with light. A shape pulled itself out of the car, almost shaking itself in the downpour.
"Morien, for fucks sake ."
Striker was running now, towards her friend, knowing that that way lay violence. Morien turned, looked towards the car, saw the man, wide-shouldered, barrel-chested, and in the silvery sparks of rain, the glint of steel being pulled from his tailored suit. She stopped, backed up, her sandals almost failing to grip on the wet tarmac.
She could feel her heart stopping. She could hear her breath coming in short, terrified gasps. She backed up against something hard. And suddenly she was falling sideways, dizzy and rolling hard down the grass bank, held tightly in Strikers grasp, her bag pressed sharply between them.
They landed almost at the stream, the grass angled beneath them, greasy from the sudden drenching. Striker looked up. She could see the bulked shadow of the at the top of the slope. And he could see them.
She grabbed Moriens hand and pulled before the gun went off, a big, echoing bang in the noise of falling water. Something splashed in the stream behind them.
They dashed along the stream, hearing the muted sounds of voices and footsteps above them. Striker ahead, losing her grasp on Moriens wet hand. She could hear her friend behind her, her breath bursting from her.
Then she heard a gasp, and she turned to see Morien drop like a stone.
There had been no second blast, but it was a moment before Striker realised that Morien hadnt been shot. This was something different.
Oh my God, not now.
Morien's mouth opened and let out a low cry, and Striker crashed to her knees at her side as the woman's body started to convulse. She wanted to gather her in her arms, but she had learnt better than that.
She didn't move her; the ground was soft, made softer by the rain. She only kept a loose hand on her arms, to ensure her body didnt slip.
Striker could hear the sounds of pursuit above them. But then she discerned that the sound was too far away. The brothers had overshot them, not realising that the two women had stopped. She and Morien were still in the open, although partly concealed by the slope of the bank. She pulled them back against the grass as tightly as she dared, but knowing that if she held on to Morien she could hurt her. If the men leant right over the edge of the slope and looked down, they would be seen. They were still sitting targets.
But the rain, the rain that just moments ago she had been cursing, would, perhaps, go a little way to hiding them.
Morien's breath was coming irregularly, her eyelids fluttering, but she was making no sound. Her eyes were closed, her skin had taken on a slight blue tinge. Stroking her face, Striker bent down keeping her mouth close to Morien's ear, whispering as quietly as air, "Its okay, honey. Well be okay, dont worry. Sshhh, now, itll be okay."
"They came this way," a loud voice shouted almost directly above, and as startling as a bullet. "I heard something."
"Can you see 'em?"
Striker bent lower, trying desperately to cover Morien's lighter clothes, hoping against hope that the dark leather of her jacket and her dark hair would help to hide them in the shadows of rain. She was shaking almost as much as Morien now, from the downpour and from fear.
How long had it been? It felt like hours that they'd been crouched on the bank, Morien's seizing body covered by Striker's long frame. It was only minutes, wasn't it? Only a few minutes. But Striker knew enough that if the fit lasted much longer, Morien was in trouble.
"Can't see a bloody thing. Fuck, I'm soaked." The voice was moving away.
"Let's go back, Nige. We know where they're going."
"Yeah, hopefully a nice warm pub. Fucking Taffland."
"Gilll fucking kill us for losing em."
Barely turning her head, a flash at the corner of her eye, Striker thought she caught the bleached lightning of Nigels hair in the silver gloom.
"Gil can fucking come back and look for them then." There was a laugh. Retreating. "Besides," she caught, "it was pure fucking luck that we saw them. The plans the ." A car door slammed, then the muffled sound of an engine bursting to life.
And Morien stilled under her. Striker thought she could hear her breathing, though it seemed impossible with the sound of the rain and the car above. The tyres peeled themselves off the wet road and swished away.
She sat up a little and looked down at Morien's face. Morien was catching her breath and she looked back at Striker with clear eyes, now brimming with tears.
"Im sorry," she whispered.
Striker couldnt stand to see the pain in her eyes. She wanted to hug the pain away, but instead, she gently turned Morien onto her side and, positioning herself alongside her on the wet grass, wiped saliva away from her mouth, and stroked sodden auburn hair away from her cheek. Morien sobbed, great gulping sobs that shook her already strained body.
"Im sorry," she mouthed, barely able to get the words through her tears.
"Hey, theres nothing to be sorry for," Striker said, brushing rain and tears from Moriens face. "Youre fine, youre okay, sweetie, youre okay."
Morien reared up suddenly, her eyes wide, "Striker, the men ."
Striker coaxed her back down. "Theyre gone. Now, lie down for just a little longer, okay? Just breathe."
Morien lay down again, her head too heavy to hold up. She was shivering. Not from cold, but from fear and shock and deep, terrible shame. She felt the heavy weight of Strikers jacket placed on top of her and welcomed its warmth and scent. She hid her face in its folds, and listened to raindrops drumming on the leather.
"Its wet," she finally said from the depths of the jacket.
Striker stifled a laugh. "Yeah, honey, its wet. Well go in a minute. I need you to take a moment, okay?"
The rain was easing, or so Striker thought. Maybe it was just her fear easing. Either way the world was looking just a little lighter. She listened. Nothing but rain. No voices. No cars. There was a distant roll of thunder. Nothing else. She looked at Morien again; she was so still, and for a dreadful moment thought she was unconscious.
"Morien?" She rubbed her shoulder through the jacket
"Howre you feeling?"
"Tired and headachey. I want to go home."
"You think you can get up?"
Morien answered by shakily getting to her feet. She held the jacket out to Striker, but the American shook her head. "No, you keep it."
"But youre soaked."
"So, it isnt going to make much difference now."
Morien looked up the steep slope. "Well have to get back up to the road."
Striker followed her gaze. "I think we ought to keep off the road, just in case. Is there anywhere we can shelter round here?"
Morien rubbed her head. She was pale and had dark streaks underlining her eyes. "Not really. We may as well go into town."
"How far is it?"
"Not far. Mile and a half, maybe a bit further," she said with a weak smile.
"So we stay here and get wet, or walk it and get wet."
"And at least if we walk it were closer to home."
"Do you think you can make it?"
Morien had spent her childhood roaming the hills and coast around Lleuadraeth, but never had a mile and a half seemed so far. Her head was pounding. Every single muscle in her body was aching and was aching more each minute with the drumming of the rain.
She pulled her muddy, soaked bag onto her shoulder. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I can make it."
i "Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." Albus Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" by J.K. Rowling.
Continued in Chapter 20..
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