For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (email@example.com)
* * * * *
Chapter 24: And the wind gave up in despair
Striker crashed inside, the echoes of her own cry already bouncing back at her.
The silence seemed to taunt her: she's left you....
The television was flashing images to a deserted sitting room. Morien's bag - still dirty with mud - lay by the sofa. Her purse... her keys... her mobile phone....
The washing up still sat in the kitchen sink. The only life in the garden was a lounging Heriell.
Striker took the stairs three at a time, her heart in her throat. Morien's bedroom. The bed had been made, but the sheets, the room, the very air was still infused with the night. Except Morien was only there in memory, and that memory was suddenly almost too much to bear.
Sullivan's bedroom… the bathroom… empty. The shower dripped. There was medication on the shelf above the sink. Surely Morien wouldn't have left that behind?
"Morien!" she shouted at the top of her voice, knowing that there would be no response.
Her own bedroom was as she had left it. She sat, for a moment, on the bed, struggling to breathe. Panic was descending like a thunderbolt. Her chest ached with it. But she couldn't let it stop her.
Could she have missed something?
There were two issues here. Morien was missing. There was no sign of any kind of struggle. But, she would not have left the door open. She would not have left her medication behind. She certainly wouldn't have gone out without her keys. There was no sign of forced entry... she let them in. Could they have threatened her? Could they have hit her?
Oh God, sweetheart....
All she could think of was the way Morien had held her that morning. The way her arms had felt around her body. How much she loved her. And that what they had was suddenly gone.
Striker's whole body was shaking. She folded her arms across her chest, tightly. Her fingers dug into her sides. The pain made her concentrate.
The second issue... the second issue.... For some reason, the police had suspended their surveillance. That could only mean one thing: there was no further need to watch them. The Toussaints had been caught. But then... where was Morien?
Striker slammed back downstairs. Maybe Idomeneo had phoned while she was out. She picked up the phone, dialled 1471. A mobile number... fifteen minutes ago. Could that have been...? There was a discarded letter from the morning's post sitting by the phone. She scribbled the number down on the open envelope, then dialled it, nervously, and was rewarded with a tiny flicker of hope when it was answered with a brief, "Jones."
Thank God. "Idomeneo, it's Striker."
"Striker, they're about to make an arrest. It's not a good time."
"You've got them?"
"Didn't Morien tell you? The car was found in front of a house in Caernarfon. There are two men inside, they've identified themselves as...."
"Morien's not here."
There was a pause. "What?"
"Idomeneo, the door was open when I got back. She's left her purse, her keys...." She tried to control the sob that threatened to break out.
There was a long pause from the other end of the phone.
Then.... he erupted.
"Shit, I told him we shouldn't.... Bob, turn this car round." He was barking orders, presumably into a radio. "Evans, Griffiths, Taylor, Rossi, back to Lleuadraeth now. The rest... carry on here. Smith, where are you?" There was a garbled noise in the background. "Go to Sunny Hill. Meet me there." More distorted words. "Sir, can you hold on...? Striker...," his voice was loud in her ear, "stay there. Don't move from that house. Don't answer the door unless you know it's me."
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
The phone went dead.
An insignificant part of her realised that she'd never heard Idomeneo speak so fast.
The house resonated silence.
Striker took a few deep breaths and heard her heartbeat bouncing off the walls. She closed her eyes. Hold on, sweetheart. We're coming....
If he was in Caernarfon, she guessed that Idomeneo was at least thirty minutes away. PC Smith was obviously closer, but….
Striker wracked her brains, desperately trying to think where they would have taken Morien. But what hope did she have?
It was so quiet. The town seemed to be holding its breath.
We look out for each other, she had said.
Striker went back into the sitting room and took the keys and the mobile phone from Morien's bag.
And left the house.
Standing at the gate, she looked up Sunny Hill. There was no sign of life. But it was worth a try. Hell, she'd spent her entire time in Britain pursuing exactly this type of search. Misplaced people: her specialty. She raced down the neighbours' path. Her impatient knocks on the door only earned her sore knuckles and silence from the empty house.
So she tried the house on the other side.
And her knock was answered almost immediately by a small, slim woman with greying hair and bright eyes.
Keep calm, fuck-up. Don't antagonise the locals.
She remembered a name and took a guess. "Hello, are you... Mrs Jenkins?"
"My name's Striker West, I'm staying with Morien and Sullivan next door."
The woman seemed ten years younger as her face broke into a smile. "Oh, hello. Can I help you, love?"
Calm. Her nails bit into her palms.
"Ma'am, I'm a little concerned about Morien. I went out for a walk and when I got back the front door was open and Morien was gone. I'm concerned something might have happened to her. Have you seen her?"
The smile fell from the kindly face, replaced by a twilight of wrinkles. "Oh my goodness. I'm sorry to hear that, love. I'm afraid I haven't seen a thing. I've been out shopping most of the morning, only just got back, see? Are you sure Morien hasn't just popped out to the shops?"
"The front door was open. She's left her keys behind…." The sentence was finished with a dry sob, and Mrs Jenkins saw the fear in her face.
"Oh my dear…. Should you phone the police?"
Striker calmed her breathing. "Yes, ma'am. I've just phoned Idomeneo Jones."
"Oh, that's good. Idomeneo will help."
"I thought I'd ask around, see if anybody has seen anything. Would you mind looking out for the police if I'm not around when they arrive?"
"Yes, of course, love. I've got a spare key to next door. I feed the cats when Sullivan's away. I'll let them in."
"Thank you, ma'am, that's good of you." Her voice was beginning to wobble.
"Not at all, love. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll turn up. And please let me know if there's anything else I can do."
"I will. Thank you, ma'am."
Striker turned to go as the front door started to close. But was stopped by a call. "Oh, I tell you what, love. You could try Mr Maguire at Number Five opposite. I think he's been gardening in the front all morning. He might have seen something."
Mr Maguire at Number Five. A beautifully-tended garden. A varnished wood front door. Two grey-blue eyes peering from the gloom of the house. "Hello, Mr Maguire. I'm sorry to disturb you."
"Are you selling something?"
"No, sir. My name's Striker West. I'm staying with The Llewelyns across the street."
"Oh." He opened the door a little more, but the eyes were still suspicious. "Yes?"
"Sir, I'm concerned about Morien. I went out for a little while and she wasn't home when I got back. I was wondering if you'd seen her leave, or if you saw anyone else go into the house?"
"No." His face crumpled into a frown. He stared beyond her at a hydrangea bush in full flower, apparently lost in thought.
Fucking hell, come on!
"Have the Llewelyns had any parcels today?" he suddenly asked.
"I don't think so." She had seen nothing but the few ready-opened letters.
"There was a Post Office van parked just outside the house. It can only have been there for a short time. I went out to the shed to get my clippers and it was just going when I got back."
Something prickled in her memory.
Post Office van.
It had been Smith, hadn't it? Someone stole a Post Office van in Llithfaen. Everyone was looking for the BMW, so they'd acquired an innocuous vehicle. And it had been driving up the hill... she'd been so close....
Striker didn't know whether to hug him or cry. "Thank you, sir. Thank you." She rushed back up the path and hared down Sunny Hill to the junction of the High Street.
Then wondered where to go next.
In the distance, fast approaching, she could see the white and blue of a police car coming down the hill. Smith.
She ducked into the newsagents, the shop bell's nervous jingling sounding her fear, as she watched the car career round the corner into Sunny Hill.
Dai News and Ianto the gnome looked startled at her sudden reappearance.
"Hello, love," Dai said. "You changed your mind about those papers?"
"You all right, love?" Ianto looked genuinely concerned.
"No... no, I'm...." Her throat was burning with tears and she took a couple of deep breaths to try and calm herself. And in a brief moment of clarity, she remembered. They were a Post Office as well. Would they know about vans....?
"I was wondering if the mail had been collected yet. Has the van come?"
"No, love, not 'til later. Why? Do you want to post something?" Dai answered.
"No.... Look, I need to track down a particular mail van. I think I saw up go up the hill not long ago. Is there any way I could track it down?"
"A particular Post Office van? You'd have to contact the main depot, love."
"No... I...." She calmed her breathing again. "I… I think the van may have been involved in a crime."
There was a pause. Both men looked puzzled. Then suddenly: "Are you a friend of Dean Powell?" Ianto asked.
Striker blinked. "Dean Powell?" Dean.... "Pizza-faced guy?"
The little man chuckled. "Pizza-faced. I like that. Yes, that's him."
"What about him, Ianto?" Dai asked, becoming as interested as Striker.
"Just something he said, that's all."
"What did he say?" Striker's voice was low with anxiety.
Ianto looked as if he was under interrogation, rubbing his head through his hat. "Yesterday, I was over at The Ship, see. Go over there on Tuesdays for the darts. He was in there with all his mates, boasting about doing a favour for some chaps up from London by playing a trick on some poor postman up Llithfaen way. Taking his van for a ride, see? A couple of his mates were trying to hush 'im up, but you know what that lad's like. Always got to be the Big Man."
"That's right, Ianto," Dai encouraged. "D'you remember when...."
And they were off.
And Striker was on the pavement, the bell barely registering her exit. He'd yelled at Morien, "You'll get yours. " Had he willingly helped the Toussaints knowing that Morien would get hurt?
Well, Dean fucking Powell was about to get his.
Back down the hill - people staring at her flying form as she pushed past - back across the harbour square and straight into the shadowy doorway of The Ship Inn.
It was dark inside in comparison to the bright, white dazzle of the square. There was a murmur of voices that paused as she paused, trying to make sense of the shadows. And then the Welsh started around her.
This time Striker ignored it. She didn't have time for their petty politics. She made out the shapes of bodies against the dim light of the bar. None of them seemed familiar.
But then against the background of Welsh and laughter came a familiar tone: "Gone and lost your girlfriend, have you? Come looking for a man?"
That was fucking it.
Striker turned towards the sound, her rage giving her direction. He was there, as she thought: Dean Powell and the trolls.
He didn't know what hit him.
He was up against the wall of the pub before he could fully register the six foot hellcat of furious, terrified woman crashing towards him.
The pub went quiet again as Striker's gaze bored into Dean. She caught from somewhere: "Excuse me, we don't want any trouble in here."
Too fucking late. You've already got it, mister.
But she said nothing to the landlord. Her only words were meant for Dean and Dean alone. "The way I see it is this," she hissed. "We can go outside, nice and quiet, and you can give me some answers. Or we can stay here and your friends and these people can watch the Big Man being beaten up by a woman. And you fucking know that I'll do it as well."
To his credit, he didn't shy away from her gaze. He stared back, his chin jutting with defiance, despite the fact he couldn't move from the weight on him.
There was a tense silence. Someone coughed behind them, but the sound did nothing to break the tension.
Then: "Want to go outside with me? Any time you want, hwran." His voice was loud and mocking.
Striker let go of him, allowing him his bravado, but couldn't resist giving him a little push as he lead her through a side door into a small yard. Both blinked, again adjusting to the change in light, and Striker briefly made out rubbish bins, empty beer barrels, a stray crisp packet dancing across the ground.
Before she was pushed from behind, and found herself following the crisp packet. She looked up at Dean from her position on the concrete. He stood behind her, his stance foursquare, his eyes narrow, his grin smug.
The misery she was feeling seemed to pin her to the ground, but she heaved herself up, wincing, and he didn't stop her. She'd landed heavily on her knees and she could already feel bruises developing under the skin.
"That make you feel better?" she asked.
"Yeah," he replied.
"Just tell me," she said, her voice quiet.
"Tell you what?" He leant against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
The rush of anger was as familiar as an old coat, and as heady and dangerous as crack. Just a few hours ago she'd fled her lover's bed in fear of it. But now the old part of her welcomed it with open arms. She wanted to beat this boy until his blood was spattered on the white wall behind him. And the new part of her - the Morien part of her - felt sick. Her whole body was shaking with the battle inside and out. She moved towards him, but managed to stop before she put a hand to him. Her words, though, spat venom.
"Okay, you little shit, you want to play with me, do you?"
"Name the game, hwran."
His grin was becoming maddening.
She wheedled a knee between his legs, rubbing it slightly against a denim-covered thigh. "This is the game," she said, her voice low.
And she put a hand round his throat. It was a loose grip, but his eyes seemed to bulge, not from her actions but the belated, fear-filled comprehension that she wasn't playing. His face was an inch away, his cheeks pale, his scant puffs of breath a mixture of beer and dope.
Her voice was so quiet it was almost a whisper. "You're gonna fucking tell me what you know, or I'm going to knee your dick so hard you're going to be pissing through your mouth. Do you understand?"
She jerked her knee up just enough, and he nodded, quickly.
"Good. Now tell me where they are."
He shook his head.
She squeezed his throat.
He choked, and she loosened her grip.
And some of the fear dwindled in his eyes.
This was the game: and she'd just blinked. Another rush of anger hit her, this time at herself, and she gripped his throat again, half strangling him, holding him hard against the brickwork.
And it reminded her of the alley wall, of cold steel pressed against her forehead.... She let her hand fall, now pinning Dean to the wall only with her presence.
"You've met Bruce, huh?" she asked, conversationally.
His eyes narrowed, the change of tack puzzling him.
"You know who I mean. Big guy. Broken nose."
Dean didn't answer, but Striker saw the recognition in his eyes.
"He's one tough guy, isn't he?" Still no answer. "Suits him, though, doesn't it? He's got the cool look, the muscle, the gun.... He show you his gun?"
Dean didn't move or speak, regarding her suspiciously.
"What did he offer you and your friends to take the van? Money?... Drugs?" She searched Dean's face, looking for a reaction, but received only wariness. "Did he threaten you?"
"You wouldn't want to mess with him, would you? Is that why you're not talking?"
"Why would I want to talk to you?"
She smiled at him again, ignoring his question. It was a smile that had nothing to do with joy or humour. "Funny story: you know how Bruce broke his nose?"
Oh, there was interest there, all right.
He waited, breathless, for the punchline....
...and she delivered it with a lupine grin. "I did it."
And she watched the realisation explode into Dean's eyes.
"I don't know nothin', see" his Welsh accent sputtered against her skin.
"The fuck you do. I know you're involved."
"I ain't done nothin'."
"You stole a van for them. Where'd you take it?"
"I didn't take it nowhere."
"Don't fucking lie to me, boy, I'll hurt you bad."
"And he's got a gun. You said so yourself."
Striker grabbed his collar with one hand, pulling him forward into the yard then ramming him back against the closed door. She punched him hard, a balled fist connecting with a cheekbone, ricocheting his head off the wood. He cried out as his pallid skin suddenly blossomed pink. "You don't understand how serious I am, do you?" She punched him again. Harder. Putting every ounce of her fear, sorrow and anger into the blow. Again, his head bounced back against the door and his eyes contracted with pain. She drew her fist back, ready for number three.
And a voice came from the other side of the door. "You all right, Dean bach?" The landlord's voice. He was trying to open the door. Striker pushed Dean back again, using him as a barricade. Her fist still hovered before his face. Her eyes spoke volumes.
"I'm fine, Steve, we're just chatting," Dean called back. His voice sounded shrill and distorted.
They could hear the landlord's disbelieving grunt. But he seemed to go, leaving Dean to his fate.
And Striker had him. No longer was she looking at the swaggering, know-it-all jerk who had bullied Morien. He was torn between a gangster's bullet and a loaded fist.
Striker drew her arm back.
And then, in his scared eyes, she saw something that made her stop dead.
Another teenager: not knowing her place, desperate for attention.
Ten... fifteen years ago, she had been Dean Powell: looking for trouble, determined to find it. Wanting to be noticed, only to be noticed by the police time and time again. Even now, there was still a lot of Dean inside her. She'd walked a good few miles in his trainers.
She reeled back, letting him go, and his head went down, his body banging against the wall, his knees giving way entirely. He coughed, retched, spat to one side and Striker could see blood in the saliva, hear the tap of a tooth hitting the concrete.
She turned away, her back to him, fighting the wash of grief that threatened to overwhelm her. She put a hand to the wall to support herself. She didn't know how to continue. The violence that she'd relied on for so much of her life had deserted her. But what else did she have? But she had to continue, for Morien's sake. For Morien's life.
Her voice was quiet again, and she wondered if he could hear the despair. "Is this honestly just a game to you? Does it honestly not matter to you that a human being's life is in danger?" She glanced at him. "Someone you know, whose family you know?"
Dean blinked, his face swelling already, her fingerprints raw on his throat. She turned, and he flinched at her action, but she didn't move any closer.
"You do understand that, don't you? You do know that right now you are involved in a kidnapping? And it could get a hell of a lot worse. You are up to your neck in shit, man, and there's no way you're gonna come away smelling good. Not to the Toussaints, not to your friends. Right now, you're looking at prison. You really want to go down for those bastards? What have they ever done for you? Did they make you feel that good about yourself that you'd be willing to serve time for them?"
They stared at each other. Cracks were appearing, but she wasn't sure whether it was in her or him.
And then she all but fell to her knees in front of him. A hand reached out, touched his shoulder. And a new question: "You got a mother, Dean?"
His head went up. His brow creased. "Yeah," he winced as he spoke, "course I have." His hand flew to his mouth.
"You love your mom, huh?"
He paused at the question. Unsure of where this was going. Then said, quietly, "Yeah."
"She proud of you?"
She watched his face closely. He didn't seem to be able to meet her gaze. He didn't answer.
"Can she look her neighbours in the eye?"
His head went down.
"Dean, you really want to be the Big Man, huh? You want to make your mother proud? How's this for being the Big Man? How would you like to go home tonight and tell your mom that you saved someone's life today? Because that's what you can do."
Again, a pause, as if he didn't know how to respond. As if he had started to think.
Then: "I don't know nothin' about them. I swear." Despite its wheezing roughness, his voice sounded child-like, and for a moment she was almost inclined to believe him. But she didn't. There had to be more.
"When did you meet them?"
Dean's eyes darted, as if he was expecting Bruce to step out from behind the pile of beer barrels. Words came, finally, as if dragged from his throat. "Monday lunchtime."
"Pub. In Pwllheli."
"When you stole the van, did you take it back to Pwllheli?"
He shook his head. "Met them just outside Llithfaen."
So they'd been moving around.
"Did you know what they were going to do with it?"
He shook his head, glanced up and was momentarily trapped in her gaze. "No... I swear."
Striker had to believe him, now.
"In the pub, they must have talked to you. What did they say?"
He even looked like a small boy now. He worried his bottom lip with his teeth, causing the already inflamed flesh to bleed. He was absent-mindedly scoring the dirt beneath his fingers.
"Please, Dean. Did they ask you anything?"
He didn't speak.
"You grew up here, didn't you? You must know this area well."
He glanced up. Nodded. She rewarded him, rubbing his shoulder in encouragement.
"So what did you tell them?" Her voice was so gentle it caressed the air.
Dean sighed. "That guy, Nigel, he asked about...." For a moment, his face flashed the recognisable smirk, but was buried behind a grimace.
Striker went cold. "Chapels?"
"Yeah. Somethin' weird about his uncle liking the local architecture."
"And what did you tell them?"
He sighed again. "I told them about the Salem Chapel."
"What did you tell them?"
And it seemed that Dean was finally resigned to spilling the information. "Where it was. Where they could get the key."
Striker closed her eyes, let out a breath. "I guess you've got to appreciate their sense of irony," she murmured. And then, suddenly, she felt rejuvenated by the information. "So, where is the Salem Chapel?"
"Off the Old North Road."
Of course. And had seen it, that familiar architecture through the curtain of blinding rain. The homely little roofs of a Welsh chapel, whether it was off the Old North Road or on Tumblety Street. And Bruce and Nigel had been looking for the chapel when they had found them.
She got to her feet, reached down and pulled Dean up, ensuring he could stay on his feet without help. He leant against the wall, eyeing her suspiciously.
One more question. She half-smiled it. "Point me in the right direction?"
And now Dean grinned in response, then winced, rubbing his jaw. Somewhere, somehow, they'd come to an understanding. And he gave her directions.
Striker let herself out of the gate at the side of the yard, looking back just the once. "Dean," she said, "thank you. I appreciate what you've told me." He nodded and put his hand on the inside door. "But, I swear, if anything happens to Morien, and I mean anything, then I am going to come after you."
An understanding. A mutual disrespect. But it was something to work with.
Striker closed the gate behind her, finding herself on a road parallel to the harbour square.
There was no guarantee they were at the Salem Chapel.
They had the whole of North Wales to choose from. They might have taken her back to Pwllheli. They could even be taking Morien back to London.
Except for one thing... and this was what kept Striker running... they didn't just want Morien, they wanted her too. And for that, maybe, they would stay close.
So she ran.
The little town suddenly seemed big. Street after street of anonymous houses, whitewash and red brick and sagging grey in the sunlight. It was mid-afternoon now. The sun was moving, leaving them for the cool sea.
She was jogging downhill. The houses were becoming fewer.
Maybe if they got out of this alive, they could go and see the sunset again. They had to get out of this, there were too many things she wanted to do with Morien, wanted to say to her....
If they were going to get out of this, she had to give them a fighting chance. She slowed a little, drawing the mobile phone from her pocket and the crumpled envelope, emblazoned with the smudged telephone number. The little display showed the failing signal. But she had to try.
The answer was gruff.
"I thought I told you to stay in the house?!" The voice was purple with rage and concern, every word clear, despite the signal. "Smith's there now. Go...."
"I have a lead on where they might be."
The further downhill she moved the more tenuous the link became. "Go back... Sunny Hill.... Now! We'll meet...."
"If you can still hear me, Idomeneo, I'm going to the Salem Chapel."
"You're breaki.... ...can't hea...."
She enunciated every word: "I'm... going... to... the... cha... ." The line went dead.
* * * * *
The sun was on her face.
She blinked, trying to get her bearings, and shook her head. Only then did she notice that her hands were warm and scarlet. They were in her lap, one partially covering the other, and were patched with red against the background of aquamarine cotton. She moved them, and the red patch stayed where it was... contrasting with the colour of her dress.
Her sandaled feet were blue. Her left elbow was grass green.
She looked up to the stained glass window above her, depicting an expressionist vision of heaven - green hills and blue skies, flowers and animals. Wales.
She blinked again, stretching the crick out of her neck, and looking around her. She knew exactly where she was: the tiled floor beneath her feet; hard beneath her backside, the uncomfortable wooden pew, uprooted from its former row and now joining others round the walls, leaving the main space free. Sometimes this building was used to stage art exhibitions, but at the moment the walls were bare, save for the colours shimmering from the few coloured windows. Sometimes it was used as a meeting place for local societies, a practice hall for the creative in the community. It was exactly as she had wanted its Tumblety Street equivalent to be.
But it seemed that on weekday afternoons in late June, the Salem Chapel was left to its own devices.
Or the devices of those who used it solely for private purposes.
Her head hurt. She had been hit again, she thought. But not so hard. She hadn't lost consciousness. But from the time she had opened the front door expecting Striker, to the moment she became aware of her surroundings, the journey had been a giddying blur of dark, light, rough hands and voices.
Morien sat on a pew, to one side of the main hall. The room seemed bathed in shades of grey and wood, except for the few dancing colours. She risked further movement, stretching her arms, her legs... they weren't tied. She sat up straight to stretch her back, and halted.
She wasn't alone. The door was open into the small porch, air from the outside stirred dust in the sunbeams. She could sense rather than see the presence of two large individuals enjoying the afternoon. She could smell cigarette smoke on the breeze.
And suddenly she became aware of movement. It wasn't fast or threatening, merely the patient movement of a man rocking forward on the soles of his shoes.
* * * * *
The lane was narrow, with ragged hedges on either side, interspersed with trees. Striker dodged from cover to cover to avoid being seen. She was hot and exhausted; a blend of fear and sunshine made her sticky with sweat. She wished she'd thought to tie her hair back into its usual plait as it yet again pasted itself, uncomfortably, to her face.
But none of that mattered.
The Salem Chapel had become a guiding light to her. She had thought that, at least, she could find another clue to Morien's whereabouts at the chapel, but the recent, distant peep of metallic red between twisted branches had made her heart pound with anger, love and adrenaline.
She could see the break in the hedge ahead. Moving an inch at a time, pressing herself into the leaf shadows of the overhanging bushes, she crept towards it. And from a patchwork of glimpses through moving leaves, she gathered her scattered wits and her bearings.
No wonder Morien had been drawn to the Tumblety Street chapel. This was the same shape and design as its London counterpoint: small and sturdy, the windows high up on the walls. Except this was the developed photograph. This building was bright and whitewashed, concealing its stone-armoured walls. It was surrounded by a gravel parking area. The Post Office van peeked from around the back of the building, seemingly taunting her. The entrance was to one side, sheltered by a porch, and she could see Nigel and Bruce, sunning themselves, smoking. They were talking quietly, throwing comments backwards and forwards, but she couldn't hear what was being said.
But she could see the gun that Bruce held in his hand, and wondered if it was the same one she could still feel pressed to her forehead. From time to time he tried to spin it on his finger like some latterday cowboy. He wasn't succeeding and Nigel's taunting laughter drifted to her on the slight breeze.
Beyond were fields. Further up, the lane turned and she knew now that it came to a halt with a bridge and a phone box.
What the hell was she going to do? Crouch under this hedge while ants crawled up her shorts, and her grazed knees stung? They had Morien. They were armed. If she surprised them, she could be shot. Worse still, Morien could be shot. She couldn't break in without alerting them: the crunch of the gravel would see to that.
They might be taking a chance by being this close to Lleuadraeth, but they were here for more than irony. They couldn't have found a better building to hide in. The basic layout of interior would be safely familiar to them. They could see who was coming for miles. They could hear who was coming because of the gravel. And should they choose to barricade themselves inside, anyone outside would be hard pushed to break the siege.
She had only got herself this far because she was one person.
One desperate person.
And there was only one course open to her.
Besides, if it worked on two London cops it would work for them, wouldn't it? Though she was going to make it a little harder for these bastards.
Carefully, she felt around in the grass beneath her feet, and under the hedge, and her hand closed on a rock... big enough, heavy enough to hurt like hell with the right speed, but light enough to throw some distance. Baseball weight.
Striker took a couple of deep breaths, murmured a heartfelt prayer to her red-haired, green-eyed destiny under her breath, and moved. She had the perfect target: the bandage across Bruce's nose was large and prominent. She hit it dead on. Still got it.
An anguished cry was carried away by the breeze.
While his brother was bent over, grasping his face in agony, Nigel's eyes flashed towards the road, his own gun ready. And she stepped out into his sights.
"Hey, guys," she said, "you didn't think I was going to give myself up without a fight, did you?"
* * * * *
"Are you all right? You're not hurt, are you?"
The man was average height, middle-aged, slender, with cropped, grey hair and a bald patch. He too was dressed in a suit, but it seemed a little too big for him. And it was old. He would have seemed dapper once, but not now.
Morien felt dizzy. She sat back heavily, her hands clutching the edge of a seat.
The man continued to talk. His voice was quiet, pleasant even; his accent carefully refined, but with a bass note of Cockney. "I'm sorry about the boys. They seem to have a proclivity towards aggression. Conversation is far more civilised, don't you think?"
Morien looked at him. Expressions fought on her face. Puzzlement, anger, fear….
"I'm sorry," the man repeated. "I should have introduced myself, Miss Llewelyn." He held out a hand. "I'm…."
"I know exactly who you are, Mr Lamprey." She did not take the proffered hand. "The police have been watching us, you know. They're probably on their way already."
Gilbert lowered his hand. "Ah, yes. The police. They're very enthusiastic up here, aren't they? I've organised a little slight of hand to keep them occupied elsewhere. A rather convincing slight of hand, as well." He smiled and sat himself down next to her, leaving a polite distance between them. "You and I… we've got a little history between us, now, haven't we?"
Morien didn't answer. She couldn't look at him. She held her head up, though, taking in the familiar surroundings of the chapel; so similar and yet so different to its London cousin.
"You tried to get in touch with me a little while ago. With hindsight, perhaps we should have talked then. It would have avoided so much unpleasantness, don't you think?" Again, Morien didn't reply. "But then, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Isn't that what they say?" He looked at the silent woman, the strain on her face. "I'm truly sorry for what has happened to you, Miss Llewelyn. What happened in February was unwarranted, and without my approval. The men responsible have already been punished."
Morien swallowed, concentrating on the wooden beams crossing the ceiling.
"I deeply regret the… difficulties… you have had as a result, and should you need any financial support for medical bills…."
Now Morien looked at him, her hand unconsciously fingering the day's headscarf. "How the hell do you know about that?"
He looked genuinely apologetic. "I do know a lot about you, Miss Llewelyn. Unfortunately, it has been rather necessary to keep an eye on you over the last few months. You stumbled into a rather sensitive operation."
Suddenly, he reached round behind him, and Morien caught herself recoiling, expecting a gun. Instead, he pulled out a thermos flask. He unscrewed the plastic cup from the top and poured out some brown liquid. "I'm sorry," he said, "where are my manners? Would you like some?" He held out the cup.
Morien shook her head.
"It's only tea." He saw the fear in her eyes. "Look, I'll show you." He took a little sip from the cup and held it out to her again.
Morien shrunk back.
Gilbert shrugged and took a larger mouthful of tea. "As I was saying, we've had to keep an eye on you; watch your movements, if you will, and I have learned a lot about you. It is a pleasure to meet you properly, though; have a chat face-to-face."
Morien looked down into her lap.
"I was hoping to speak to your friend too. I had hoped the boys would bring her along. Miss West, isn't it?" Morien looked up and he smiled, obviously grateful to have caught her attention for just that moment. "I haven't really had a chance to see her yet, except from afar, of course. She seems like a special lady." Gilbert smiled again. The light in Morien's eyes betrayed the chink in her armour. "You and she… your friendship is very new, isn't it?" Morien clasped her hands together on her lap.
"But she's very precious to you. You're very lucky, Miss Llewelyn, to have a relationship like that. I sometimes think…."
He trailed off, and the unfinished sentence made Morien look up again. And now he was looking away; his expression reflective. He had a delicately handsome face, a little rounded by years. She would have expected him to be hard, predatory, not this softly-spoken… gentleman.
He looked up and caught her eye. "Strange about Miss West. We haven't been able to find out much about her. Obviously, we've had very little time since she appeared on the scene, but…. It was easy to find out where she lived, but she's not a registered voter. Her local council don't seem to know of her existence…. I half wondered if she was an illegal alien. She's an American, isn't she? It's the name, I suppose. There are an awful lot of Wests in London. And Striker. That must be her nickname, surely?" He glanced at Morien. "Do you know her given name?"
Morien looked away, gazing out of one of the plain glass windows; staring at the blue sky beyond.
"But, of course, you wouldn't tell me. Your loyalty is admirable. I would like to meet her, though. The boys say she's very beautiful, or words to that effect." He grinned now, almost chuckled. "They're very… taken with her. She has a great deal of spirit, your Striker."
And there it was, the tiniest glimmer of a smirk on Morien's face. She hid it well.
"Unfortunately, she seems to bring out the worst in the boys. They've never learnt restraint… subtlety. They take after their father." He sighed. "You know, when they were little, when Charlie was… away... I'd help my sister out, babysitting, you know? I remember telling them the Aesop's fable of the sun and the wind. Do you know it?"
Morien gave him the ghost of a nod.
"Persuasion is better than force. They never did understand it. I seem to remember Nigel snatching the book out of my hands and hitting Bruce over the head with it."
Morien stifled a smile.
"As I said, no subtlety. Stopping you on the road, for example: a stupid thing to do. Although, they are learning: planting drugs on your friend. That was good. A gamble, but good. And the phone calls, of course, they worked on a number of levels, I thought. That was the boys' idea."
"You scared me. You broke into my home."
"Yes, we did. Again, this was a necessity. We realised that you still had evidence, you see. A certain erroneous printout in your proposal. My name appeared by accident on the council database for only a few hours. It was removed as soon as one of my associates spotted it, but you had already...." He smiled. "All this trouble for a silly piece of paper.... Can you confirm, Miss Llewelyn, you have given it to the police, haven't you?"
"Hmm." It wasn't an angry sound, simply a sound of thoughtfulness. He pursed his lips. Then gave a quick, decisive nod himself. The smile reappeared. "I understand your proposal was wonderful, by the way; an awful lot of potential there. I wanted to be an architect when I was younger, you know, and then business got in the way, so to speak. Had the circumstances been different I might have helped you at Tumblety Street... fascinating architecture there, isn't it? And now that I see this place, and can understand why you were so drawn to it. But we all had to concentrate on the Woodhall Estate project. I'm a great believer in these regeneration projects, you know, especially when they take the whole community into consideration."
"You reduced crime on the Woodhall Estate for the Council...?"
"Not difficult, considering most of the dealers on the estate were ours in the first place. And we were able to offer a little friendly persuasion to the others... And, of course, in return the Council gave us redundant buildings for our own purposes. It was a nice, neat deal. No one had to get hurt. No one should have got hurt. The people of the Woodhall Estate were happy. The Council would have received universal praise for their accomplishments in regenerating an inner London estate. Certain council members could now afford a holiday home in the sun, a nice new car, the kids' school fees. And me and my colleagues had premises from which we could continue with our other interests and expand our client base beyond the East End. No one should have been hurt."
"What about the Boom Shack?"
"Ah, now that wasn't connected. Unfortunately, Miss Llewelyn, that's a reality of the business I'm in. In financial parlance they call it a hostile takeover. Some businessmen practice their hostility on paper in a boardroom. Others have to be a little more... physical." He finished his tea. "I don't like that side of it at all. As I said, conversation is far more civilised."
There was a pause, until Morien ventured a question. "Mr Lamprey, why am I here?"
Another sigh. "Oh," Gilbert said, "down to the matter in hand, then? I suppose we must." He screwed the cup back onto the flask and put it away. "I suppose we're here to ensure your silence, Miss Llewelyn."
Morien's eyes widened.
"Admittedly, much of what has happened over the last week has not been well handled. Mistakes have been made which have been more than detrimental to yourself and Miss West. I appreciate just how upset you must have been. I would like to make amends…."
Again he trailed off.
"Amends?" Morien blinked. "You're bribing us to keep quiet?"
Gilbert looked uncomfortable. "Bribery's an unfortunate word. It has such unpleasant connotations. I'd prefer to see it as a little commercial transaction for our mutual benefit."
"What's the point? The police have already raided Tumblety Street. That's all the evidence they need, surely?"
Gilbert shrugged. "I accept that that particular venture can't be salvaged, and sadly some of my associates will no doubt serve some time at Her Majesty's pleasure, but there's always ways and means. And you and your friend are key to the police investigation, especially when it comes to the boys. Your co-operation with us will not go unrewa…."
Morien almost laughed. "Your boys made our lives hell - there's a man dead, for God's sake, another in hospital - and you expect us to help them?"
"I can understand your concerns, Miss Llewelyn. The boys have not always behaved as I would have wanted, and for this I can only apologise. But it will be in your interests to co-operate with us."
Morien stood up as if she could go. "Mr Lamprey, perhaps I ought to thank you for your offer, but I don't care about money. I have everything I need. And even if I didn't, the answer would still be the same. No."
Gilbert sighed deeply and his shoulders slumped. "What a pity. I was really hoping you would say yes, Miss Llewelyn, please believe me. It's all so needless."
Morien stood her ground, and looked him straight in the eye. "So… you're going to kill me?" She was stunned at just how calm her voice was. Her heart was crying out. She wondered if Gilbert Lamprey had a gun. Or whether it would be Bruce or Nigel who would put a bullet in her head. Probably the latter. Gilbert Lamprey didn't get his hands dirty.
Perhaps it was the best. Maybe if she offered herself to them, they would leave Striker alone. Maybe this would end it all.
But such a short time with Striker, when she'd dreamed of a lifetime. That thought made her heart bleed.
"Oh, goodness, no," Gilbert interrupted her thoughts. "I think that would be a little inappropriate. I told you, Miss Llewelyn, I'm a subtle man." He smiled, his face friendly. "And please remember, I know a lot about you. I know where your brother lives, for example. I believe you have two little nephews, is that right?"
And Morien's blood froze.
"Don't you touch them!"
"I have no intention of touching them, Miss Llewelyn, because I know you're an extremely intelligent woman and we will be able to come to some agreement…."
How could he sit there, that calm, kind expression on his face, and threaten the lives of two children?
Morien sat back down, despair washing over her like plague. "Mr Lamprey…."
The door banged open, and they both jumped. They could hear swearing beyond. Gilbert's soft face crumpled in puzzlement, interest... a flash of anger? The back of the chapel was in shadow, now. The sun had moved. They both blinked into the darkness.
"Sorry, unc," a voice called, "but we found…."
"I found you, you fucking asshole," an unmistakably American accent responded.
"Shut the fuck up, you bitch."
There was a sound of spluttering in the background. "She broke by fucking dose…."
"Again," Striker said, as Nigel pushed her into the chapel hall.
Morien was on her feet, rushing towards her. Nothing mattered any more. All she needed was Striker. Striker's arms round her. Striker's kiss. Striker's body against hers. And a million guns and a million gangsters were never going to keep her away.
She threw her arms round her, burying herself in the soft smoky smell of the woman she loved.
"Sweetheart," she heard whispered into her hair. "Sweetheart, did they hurt you?" A hand came up and lifted her face, and she rose like a lark into sky blue.
"No, I'm okay, cariad. I'm okay," she said. She caught Striker's hand. "You've got blood on your hand." She ran a careful finger over grazed knuckles, then put her lips to them.
"It's nothing," Striker whispered and reached down for a kiss. A little caress of benediction, a sweet touch of thanksgiving, and then, not caring about their company, soul-deep devotion.
They barely heard from behind them Nigel's murmured comment, "If you two are going to get a room, can I come?"
"Nigel, a little respect please…."
This voice Striker didn't recognise. She finally peeled herself away from Morien and turned her attention to the man at the other end of the chapel. "It's a great pleasure to meet you, Miss West," he said. He seemed small as he stood in the last remaining sunbeam, his hand held out in greeting. He smiled, welcoming.
And Striker strode up the room, her hand still clutching Morien's, pulling her on. "Are you Gilbert Lamprey?"
"Yes," he nodded, encouragingly, as the woman broke into the light, "I'm…."
And then his expression changed. His lips moved, but no sound emerged. Then "Oh my God" as if it had come from air. The colour seemed to drain from his face before their eyes. He stared at Striker as if he'd seen a ghost. "Who are you?"
Striker stopped. "What the fuck do you mean?"
He seemed to almost sway where he stood, his hand unconsciously raised to his chest. Then he said a single word that lingered in the chapel like a mote of dust in the dying sunbeam.
Striker looked as if she'd been slapped.
"What did you say? "
Gilbert's lips were trembling. "You're the spit of her."
Striker took a step towards him, and he seemed to brace himself rather than take a step backwards. Unsure of what was going on, Morien kept a firm hold on Striker's hand. She could feel the muscles tense as steel under her fingers.
"Who?" The word was like a barest breath of air.
"Judy," he said. "Judith Bailey. No, no… maybe you are a little different from her. You're taller, darker. But you look just like her."
Morien looked at Striker and saw tears glimmering in her eyes.
"How… how do you know her?"
And Gilbert Lamprey's smile was back. Even more calm, even more gentle. His eyes gleamed with memory. "She was a friend of mine, a long time ago now. Years ago." He looked at her, his eyes clearing like the sky after a storm. "You're Rosie, aren't you? Little Rosamund. You must be. Of course, Rosamund West, the daughter in America. She used to talk about you all the time. She had photos of you…."
Striker closed her eyes. The use of that name was both a torment and a balm to her. She hadn't heard it in years.
"Where is she?"
"My mother… where is she?" She sounded like a child now. There was an edge to her voice that made Morien's heart break.
"You… you don't know?"
"I haven't seen or heard from her for over twenty years. " And then the anger came. It coursed through Striker's veins: hot, desperate and terrifying. The very walls seemed to fortified themselves in readiness. Morien felt Striker shift under her hand and she jumped at the movement and at the burst of rage that burnt her like an electric shock.
The shout echoed around them like a gunshot: "Twenty years not knowing… WHERE IS SHE?"
The reply was as gentle as the question had been violent; the voice almost conciliatory. "I could ask you the same question."
"Tell me. Tell me where she is. Tell me…!"
It happened too quickly.
Striker launched herself forward, reaching for Gilbert. She was taller than him, stronger than him. She took his arms in her hands and shook him. Hard. His eyes were wide, staring up at her. He braced himself against the onslaught. It didn't matter that he was the crime boss and she was his victim. She had the power.
"Stop," his shouts were as loud as his assailant's. "I don't know! Stop!"
He staggered back, breaking free from her. Now Morien moved forward reaching out for her. But Striker hadn't finished. She pushed on, her outstretched hand more beseeching than threatening…
…when she was stopped by a blast that echoed around the room.
She stumbled, almost tripping, but caught herself before she fell. She stared at Gilbert Lamprey, his eyes mirroring her own shock. Again she tottered forward, unable to stop herself…
…and another blast.
And a voice, nasal and spluttering, "Don't you fucking hurt my uncle."
Striker wheeled round, her mouth was open. She could taste blood. She looked at the brothers, standing in the shadow in the doorway; the glimmer of the gun in Bruce's hand.
She looked down at her hands. They were warm, scarlet….
And the pain blossomed inside her until there was nothing left of her except pain. Without thinking or feeling, her head went up, her eyes closed. She had no control any more. And somehow her eyes pared themselves open, and she was caught…
…in the greenest gaze.
"Morien?" Her voice sounded strange. It bubbled. Hot liquid spilled up from her throat. It tasted of metal. Her mouth filled.
And another blast.
And the force of it carried her to the floor.
It was dark in the chapel. From somewhere, someone was shouting, "No!" A man's voice. She thought… she thought she could hear sirens…. Then there was a soft touch, a gentle, sweet, loving touch.
"Striker." Morien fell to her knees.
All was chaos around her. There were voices behind her, shouts, "Fuckin' hell, bruv, we gotta get out of here." Doors banging. Gilbert Lamprey, had slumped against the wall, his cheeks bright with tears.
But nothing, nothing was worthy of her attention. Only Striker.
Blood was seeping from her chest, her abdomen, everywhere. She tried to stop the flow, putting her hands over a possible source. It was as if she could feel the slowing pulse of Striker's heart under her fingers.
Oh God, please no.
"Morien…." She could barely hear her voice now. It seemed to ooze out of her mouth, saturated in blood.
"Don't talk now, cariad, save your breath."
The almost imperceptible shake of a head. She had to say this. If it was with her last breath, she had to say this. There was no pain now. Beyond pain, her body felt numb. She tried to move her arm and was surprised when it rose, almost despite her efforts. Morien caught it in her own, kissed the palm. Don't do that, sweet thing, you'll get your beautiful face all bloody.
It felt as if she had the weight of the world on her. So much left to do. And she'd failed. She wasn't a knight. She was a fuck-up kid meeting death on the floor of a strange building in a strange land. And the only thing she'd ever done right was fading in front of her.
Gimme time, please… give… me… time.
One more thing to do right.
Her chest seemed solid. No room for air, no room for life, it was filled with blood and love and that was all. But, she had to say this.
And before Morien left.
It was like she was fading away. Her eyes felt heavy with sleep. That would be good: to sleep, curled up with Morien. That was what she wanted.
Morien reached down, trying to wipe some of the blood from Striker's face with her hand. Striker wanted to kiss it.
"Morien…," she said.
"Morien," her voice a whisper. She clutched her hand, felt the sinews of muscle and bone in her fingers. Each word now. An effort. Pushed. Almost trapped. She looked into that beautiful sea-green gaze, filled with tears, and said it:
Morien's breath caught in her mouth.
And Striker's eyes closed.
There was no sound in the chapel.
Morien realised the heartbeat she could feel in her fingers was her own.
"Striker?" Her voice seemed small in the silence.
The woman before her was quiet and still.
"Striker… can you hear me?"
"Striker… please, sweetheart…. Striker…?"
She put her hands to Striker's face. Pushed away a lock of hair from her forehead. It was stiff with wet blood.
She bent down trying to catch a breath. There was nothing, only the bubble of scarlet at Striker's mouth. She felt a sob begin to tear her apart. She stifled the cry that threatened to slash its way up her throat.
Maybe if…. Her hands still cradling Striker's face, she bent down and captured the drowning mouth with her own. The full lips were wet, warm and salty beneath hers. She could taste metal on her tongue. "Sweetheart…," she whispered against the still mouth. "Live for me, cariad, please. "
"Come on, love, let us take her."
There was a woman at her shoulder. A man behind. And suddenly the chapel was full of people and sound and noise and Morien felt as if something inside her had snapped. A connection… a lifeline….
The paramedics were there, crowding round, police everywhere; Gilbert Lamprey was led away, blood splashes on his old suit, his hands cuffed behind his back, his face as grey as the eyes trained on Striker. He was saying something to her…. "I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…."
There were hands on her shoulders. "Come on, Morien, love." Idomeneo was here.
She had moved without even knowing it. There was distance now between herself and Striker. She couldn't see her. They had hidden her. And then she heard a noise, a strange, unearthly keening noise that seemed to ring all around her.
And she realised it was coming from her.
Continued in Chapter 25...
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