For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

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

* * * * *

Chapter 5: If we shadows have offended... [i]

Striker was aware of the door-slam still bouncing off the walls of the hallway as she slowly made her way downstairs. She was aware of the grey eyes of Mrs Kantorowicz peering at her through the door of the ground floor flat. She was aware of a little flutter of net curtains as she started walking down the street in the direction of the nearest Tube station.

But she was too caught up in the red heat of emotion to really take any of it in.

It was happening again: the hurt, the misunderstanding, the pain ripping her in two ... Morien, I just want to love you.... The phrase sobbed and sobbed inside her. But worst of all the certain knowledge that she had caused pain to Morien.

She broke into a run, making for the nearest Tube station, not allowing herself to think, not allowing her mind to settle on anything except the route home. Everything seemed blurred, even her own front door as she crashed through it.

Danny was in the sitting room with a woman. The blur encompassed the woman’s Asian prettiness and the pair’s startled expressions. Striker reached her room and slammed the door.

* * * * *

Morien was stunned by the noise: of the door, of her own angry voice, and of the confusion in her mind. She found herself reeling backwards, as if she’d had the door slammed in her face, then found herself falling.

She landed heavily on the carpet, barely acknowledging the pain in her backside until she found the bruises later. She sat there, shaking, allowing the tears that had been burning her eyes to stream down her cheeks.

Idiot. Idiot. How could I be taken in like that?

She felt angry, sad, incredibly stupid. She’d always thought she was a better judge of character.

But there had been something... something about Striker that had seemed... right.

Had she been so desperate for a friend that she’d fallen headfirst into a trap?

The remembrance of their lunch, now, was painful.

So right.

No, not right. She had stalked her, followed her, scared her - an act that felt so cruel considering her natural fear after the mugging. She felt betrayed, confused... How could she feel this deeply about someone she’d known for less than twenty-four hours?

Gwyrionyn [ii] . And this brought forth fresh tears.

She felt violated. She had let this woman in - why she didn’t know - but she felt as if Striker had buried deep inside her, become a part of her, then abused her.

But you let her in, gwyrionyn. It takes two to be a victim.

She needed to shower. Again.

* * * * *

Striker stripped off her clothes. They smelt of cigarettes and alcohol, sweat and tree sap and underneath it all the unmistakable odour of remorse. And remorse smelt a little of dog pee. She wanted to shower, but didn’t want to leave the bedroom. She didn’t want to move from where she was sitting on the bed.

So, she’d done it all over again. Every single time she got close to someone she’d fuck it up. She’d sworn it wouldn’t happen again. That’s why she’d never approached Morien in the hospital, or after she left. She had just wanted to make sure she was all right. She had just wanted to make sure she was happy. She had just... wanted her.

With every fibre of her being. She had never felt this way about anybody in her life, and she had known from the start that if her relationship with Morien became more than fantasy she would end up hurting her. And the thought of hurting Morien was more than she could bear. The image of Morien’s tearful face so close to hers... she felt her heart rip in two.

I’ve done it again. I’ve pushed someone else away.

* * * * *

The phone rang.

Morien flung a towel around herself and ran from the bathroom. She was about to pick up when she realised what she was doing.

Striker.

She rested her hand on the receiver, feeling the vibration of the ringing on her skin. It might be.

It might not be.

Why had she given this stranger her number?

Had she pushed Striker too far? Would she come after her? She remembered seeing the blood on her hand just a short time before; her wild appearance.

That thought made Morien as frightened as she had been for months.

And what if it wasn’t Striker and she was dripping water on the phone while some innocent well-wisher was wondering if she was all right?

She could just push the button and let the machine take it....

Oh, for Christ’s sake...

She picked up. "Hello?"

Her voice sounded high up and breathless.

"Mo, you okay?"

She let out a breath that she hadn’t quite realised she’d been holding. "Hi, Drake...." A myriad of thoughts on the back of a nano-second rode through her mind. She could tell him what had happened. He would support her. He would comfort her. He would take care of her. He was her brother. He would encourage her to call the police. "...no, I’m fine... reit, dda. A chdi?" [iii]

* * * * *

There was a gentle tap on the bedroom door.

"Sis, you okay?" Danny’s voice squeezed its way through the crack.

"No." Striker’s voice was muffled by the duvet.

"You want to talk ‘bout it?"

"No."

"Can I get you anything?"

"No. Wait..." the voice seemed slightly less muffed. "Some cigarettes..." She almost asked for a bottle of whisky, but decided that alcohol had got her in enough trouble for the day. She would smoke herself to death instead.

"Sure, sis..." There was a pause. From underneath her bedclothes, Striker could sense that Danny hadn’t moved away from the door. "Sis...," the voice came again... "...you got any money?"

Striker mouthed expletives into her pillow and pushed herself up. Her head was swimming, her blood felt as if it was melting the lining of her veins, her tongue seemed to be coated in something thick and toxic, and in the background to every thought was the loud and final sound of a door slamming. She found her wallet buried in her jacket on the floor, and fed a 10 note under the door.

"Thanks, sis," came the voice and soon after she heard the front door shut.

Striker fell back onto the bed, gazing up at the ceiling, watching forgotten cobwebs and dust threads dancing in the breeze from the open window. She felt she couldn’t move after a night of alcoholic excesses and sleeping in the street, but her mind wouldn’t rest. Eventually, she managed to flip over onto her stomach and reached under the bed for a diversion. Anything. A little work on catches and lids and she pulled out a book. And had to laugh at what fate had put into her hand.

It had to be The fucking Mabinogion, didn’t it?

* * * * *

"Are you all right, sis?" Drake asked again. His sister glared at him.

Morien had chosen to immerse herself in an afternoon of chaotic domesticity. Her brother’s house was always full of life: mostly pre-school and baby life... noisy, irritating, messy and hopelessly endearing.

She reminded herself of the hopelessly endearing as eight-month-old Toby joyfully threw up his mashed banana as they were mid-way through lunch. And as two-year-old Macsen insisted on playing with his toy tool-set, hammering make-believe nails into furniture, doors, knees, hands, and his little brother’s head, with a happy and continuous accompaniment of "Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang...!"

"Who in heaven’s name gave him that?" Morien asked.

"My well-meaning father," her sister-in-law Kerensa said apologetically. "And it doesn’t even have batteries to take out."

Morien rubbed a hand over her forehead, aware that the insistent banging of her nephew was beginning to sound a little like a door slamming.

"Are you sure you’re all right, sis?" Drake asked for the hundredth time.

"Dw i’n iawn! [iv] " Morien insisted in an angry undertone. It was rare they spoke Welsh in front of Kerensa, but she knew that her use of the language would emphasise her point. Her little brother was concerned. She loved him for that, and she hated his fussing. All she had wanted was a little normality with her family and to get the painful echo of Striker out of her head. "I didn’t sleep too well last night, that’s all."

"Is there something...?"

A child’s cry interrupted the moment of tension and they turned to find that Macsen had finally managed to miss his target and hammer his own fingers. Kerensa gathered him up in her arms. "Come on, my love," she said, kissing his round cheek, "you’re getting tired, aren’t you? Time for your nap."

"Let me take him." Morien got up reaching her arms out to her nephew. She didn’t miss the glance that Kerensa gave Drake, but found the little boy in her arms despite it. Adult and child headed towards the stairs.

They were pussy-footing around her again. Treating her like an invalid. As if she couldn’t do anything. As if a blow to the head had rendered her stupid... incapable... "Ow, Mo..." Her nephew wriggled in her arms.

"Sorry, bach," she said, putting him down carefully at the top of the stairs, and holding his hand as he tried to race down the hallway and into his bedroom. She lifted him onto his little toddler bed, but he seemed disinclined to lie down and just go to sleep.

"Can I ava story?" he asked.

"Story? Course you can have a story. Which one do you want?" She looked over at the little bookshelf, and in amongst the Thomas the Tank Engine and Teletubbies covers she spotted a Beatrix Potter. "How about this?"

"Peewabbi!" the little boy shouted. "Peewabbi, Peewabbi, Peewabbi...!" Morien put out a hand to make sure he didn’t bounce himself off the bed.

"Yeah, Peter Rabbit! But, Macs, you’ve got to lie down, all right?" For a moment, a toddler cloud of disobedience crossed Macsen’s half-baby face, but he could see his aunt wasn’t going to give in, so he lay down and together they pulled the covers over him. Morien sat at the head of the bed, the little boy’s head resting against her side, so he could see the pictures.

"’Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy...’"

"Cottail...," Macsen said around a huge yawn.

"That’s right, well done... ‘Cotton-tail and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.’" His eyes were already drooping. She paused in her reading, watching his face begin to relax, and was stilled by a strange feeling of recognition that she couldn’t place: as if she was lying there, her eyes closed, hearing a voice reading....

She shifted slightly, and his head slid onto the pillow. Worn yourself out, haven’t you, cariad? She placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, stroking his hair as she stood up. Glancing into the cot in the corner to check on a slumbering Toby, she made her way back downstairs.

It was quiet in the sitting room now. Drake sat at the corner desk, a pile of exercise books to one side, a red pen in his hand. Kerensa almost lay in an armchair. She opened her eyes as Morien came into the room and nodded her head to a freshly brewed cup of tea sitting in front of the sofa.

Morien smiled her thanks and sat down herself. "Out like a light," she said, "both of them." She took a sip of tea and regarded her brother’s bent head. Sometimes it was if nothing had changed. They could be back in Lleuadraeth on a Sunday afternoon, Drake pouring over his homework, her curled up in a chair reading, and their father stretched out in the armchair, lost in the newspaper. But it was Kerensa on the armchair, there were two new additions to the family asleep upstairs, and the light that slanted through the window from the tiny courtyard garden was London sun. But it was as if nothing had changed. She and Drake were still looking after each other. However frustrating he got sometimes, she would never forget what he had done for her, or what he had gone through in those few days in February.

It had been Drake who had led the hunt for her. They hadn’t realised she was missing immediately - she wasn’t in the habit of speaking with family every day - but when Drake had tried to phone her... and phone again... and phone again... it had been he who had gone to her flat to find his own messages still blinking on her answerphone. It had been he who had contacted her work-mates to discover they had thought she was off sick. It had been Drake who’d gone to the police, rallied the family, phoned the hospitals again and again. It was Drake’s face she had seen when she’d first come out of the coma. Or she thought she remembered....

"Drake...," she said."

"Mmmm...," he said, not looking up from the exercise books.

"When I was in hospital, when I was in the coma, did you read to me?"

Drake turned, a puzzled expression on his face. "No, why?"

"Do you know if anybody did? Dad or anyone?"

She had his full attention now. "I don’t think so. You came out of the coma just after we found you anyway. You didn’t give us the time to read to you! Why, Mo?"

She took another sip of tea, and thought about her answer. "I’ve been remembering... something. I could have sworn someone read to me. I just remember a voice...."

"Maybe it was one of the nurses. Have you thought about asking Mr Mistry or Mr Haywood? Or that other doctor...."

"Other doctor?"

"Yeah, the American woman in A&E."

"No," Morien replied with a wave of her hand. "No... it’s not important."

* * * * *

She hadn’t really read, just looked at the pictures in the book, running her fingers over the old, familiar words as if they were Braille. Eventually, a weight different to guilt had settled over her, and Striker had fallen into a deep sleep.

She dreamed about being chased.

Something horrific was chasing her down long, featureless corridors. She had thought it was St Vincent’s but nowhere seemed to lead where it should.

She could hear footsteps around her, getting closer.

There was a voice, but she couldn’t make out what it was saying.

There was laughter. Threatening laughter.

She found a stairway, her legs pumping under her as she ran downwards, but unsure of whether she was still being chased or rushing headlong into a trap.

The stairs seemed to be never ending.

She crashed against a door, sending her bouncing back into a darkened corridor.

Her lungs smashing into her chest, she rounded a corner and fell straight into the grasp of... herself.

Striker woke up in a cold sweat, her duvet sticking to her skin.

It was early afternoon. The light at the dirty window was different, cooler, as if it had lost interest in her bedroom.

No music. Danny must be out.

She eased herself off the bed, and poked her nose out of the door. No sign of life. She crept into the bathroom, and stood under the shower for what seemed like an age, welcoming the warm water on her skin, and the sound of it washing through her head.

But she couldn’t seem to get clean. She scrubbed her skin until it was pink and raw. She scoured her hair until it squeaked.

She still didn’t feel clean.

She finally gave up and turned the water off, feeling dirtier than before.

Wrapping her big, comfortable, towelling robe around her, she ventured out into the living room and looked at the phone.

What would Morien say if she called her?

She picked up the book, she picked up the receiver, and dialled the number. "Hello, am I speaking to Mrs Bailey? Mrs S. L. Bailey? Hello, Mrs Bailey, I’m sorry to disturb you... No, ma’am, I’m afraid you haven’t won anything." Please don’t let me be related to her. "I was wondering if...."

There was a scribbled note on the table.

Hey, sis, hope you’re feeling better. Don’t smoke them all at once.

Not only was there an unopened packet of cigarettes underneath the note, but he’d left her the change from the ten pounds as well.

She extricated a cigarette from the packet with one hand, as she listened to Mrs Bailey mumble apologies, then lit it as disconnected. Her hand paused over the numbers, tapped impatiently. She dialled.

* * * * *

The answer machine was flashing. Without thinking she pressed the button.

"Hi, cariad, it’s Dad. Just phoned to say hello. Hope you’re out having fun. Give me a call when you can."

Dear Dad. Morien suddenly felt very, very homesick. Later she’d give him a call.

The machine beeped to indicate the start of a new message.

And there was silence.

Nothing.

Was that... the sound... of someone... exhaling?

Morien imagined smoke coming from the machine.

Then the sound of the line being disconnected and a mechanical voice announced when the call had been made: 1.33 p.m.

Followed by another beep.

Silence.

Again.

A long, breath-filled silence.

And the line went dead.

2.42 p.m.

Another beep.

Silence.

A click as the line died.

3.27 p.m.

Beep.

Silence.

Click.

4.34 p.m.

Beep.

Silence.

Click.

5.30 p.m.

Five minutes ago.

No more messages.

Morien grabbed the receiver and dialled 1471. A polite cut-glass woman’s voice said, "Sorry, the caller’s number was withheld."

* * * * *

Morien joined the Monday morning dirge on the Tube, feeling about as sick as she ever had after a weekend. The carriage was thick with sweat and humidity as people shook themselves free of the warm rain outside and the weekend of sun and relaxation. Morien felt too tired to stand up, but was unable to move from between the two large, be-suited gentlemen that had come in behind her. She hadn’t slept. She felt too ill to go to work. But she was too scared to stay at home.

There had been one phone call last night. It hadn’t even lasted five seconds.

The phone had rung.

She had picked it up.

The line had gone dead.

Every single one of those five seconds had felt like a lifetime.

She could have gone to her brother.

She could have talked to her father.

She could have gone to the police.

But she couldn’t prove it was Her.

She had spent the evening flinching at every sound: the sound of a neighbour’s phone ringing through the wall, the sound of creaking on the staircase, the sound of a footstep in the street, the sound of the rain.

And through the night, in those few moments of jumping sleep between the raindrops drumming on the window, she kept hearing that voice.

It was calm, quiet and immeasurably reassuring, like a cool hand on her fevered brow, and she knew now... in a growing, slow-burning realisation that made her cry with the pain and confusion of it... that that still, small voice was Striker’s.

She couldn’t escape.

Morien disentangled herself from her fellow passengers, fell out of the crush of the station, and headed down the wet street to work.

* * * * *

And into a scene from Grease.

It happened regularly on a Monday morning. Morien would walk into an office of giggling, gossiping work-mates - carefully segregated like a junior disco: women at one side of the room, men at the other - and be unwillingly regaled by tales of dancefloor wooing and sexual conquests.

Sally was holding court at the window end, her voice in a falsetto whisper as she let loose another juicy titbit of information. Her tightly-styled hair jiggled in response to a roar of bawdy laughter coming from the men, upset at being interrupted, and the women around her drew closer as she opened her mouth....

Tell me more, tell me more....

Morien dropped into her seat, swinging her bag under her desk. She turned her computer on and reached for the nearest file to hide in.

"Are you all right?"

She half-wondered if her brother had wandered into the office, but looking up she found herself staring into the dark eyes of Asha, the only other person in the room who seemed uninterested in taking part in the chorus.

"Didn’t sleep too well," Morien smiled weakly.

"Would you like a coffee?"

Maybe we could go for a coffee or something....

"Yes, thank you."

She liked Asha. She was quiet, bright, friendly, kept herself to herself and didn’t ask difficult questions. From time to time the two of them would have lunch together and not exchange information about their private lives.

That wasn’t true... completely. Morien knew that Asha still lived with her parents, spent much of her time with her family, and had an interest in music and reading. Asha knew that Morien enjoyed reading and art, spent much of her time with her family, and was gay... and didn’t bat an eyelid. What they chose to do with the rest of their free time was their own business.

To the rest of the office, Asha was too respectable to be interesting, Morien was too weird to be interesting. That was fine by them.

Of course, Morien had had her own song a little while ago. Her colleagues had flocked round her when she had returned to work after the attack - concern, kindness and interest etched into their every word. Tell us more, Morien, tell us more.... Then Donna had met a new man and her song was over.

A mug of coffee arrived in front of her. She sipped at it gratefully and regarded Asha through the steam. "Good weekend?"

Asha smiled and nodded, a surprisingly big grin on her face. "You?"

Morien made a face. "So what’s happening with the Community Centre on the Woodhall Estate?"

* * * * *

At around lunchtime, Striker finally threw back the duvet. She hadn’t slept, just listened to the sound of the rain. She felt grey.

Her life was a mess.

Her bedroom was a mess.

She picked up the clothes from the floor, and stumbling into the kitchen, flung them into the washing machine, and as an afterthought, squeezed her bedding in on top. Then she stood under the shower for a while, hoping it would make a difference. Throwing some clothes on, she started picking up rubbish from the living room: the pizza box, cigarette ends, empty beer cans...

Oh fuck, Dan... there was a used condom under the couch.

At least I know he practices safe sex with everyone.

She looked at the daisies in their jug. They still looked fresh. She couldn’t bring herself to throw them away.

She flung the trash bag into the kitchen.

Then she took her jacket to the dry cleaners.

* * * * *

Monday bled into Tuesday.

The time had wrung Morien like a sponge, each beep of the answerphone twisting her tighter. There had been a plethora of messages at each end of her day, and periodically throughout the evenings. She’d simply picked the receiver up, her mouth freezing round a greeting. The click as the call was ended made her throat constrict. She had turned the volume down.

She flicked on television at some point, but the pictures were meaningless. Eventually, if only in a bid to move, to do something, she’d pulled the cover off the easel. She’d forgotten that she’d be confronted by Striker.

Watching.

Morien had found herself mixing paint, and sweeping it over the whole picture. She felt tears streaming down her cheeks as she covered Striker’s skin in heavy black oil. It didn’t make her feel any better.

For Striker, the time had danced. She had worked six ‘til six in a constant pull of activity. Not busy, just constant, but the time had flown. She had surfaced into the early morning rain, the timid sun peeping from behind a grey cloud, turning the drops to rainbows and the air heavy.

She had drifted from sleep island to sleep island throughout the day, her mind whirring round eddies of thought with the snarl of Danny’s music battering her through the wall.

Once Danny left, she crept out of bed and into the living room. And picked up the phone.

Eventually, she made a decision. And the seas calmed.

* * * * *

Morien had sipped at some soup for lunch. Sitting on her own in the staff canteen she watched the clouds, grey and heavy with gloom, inch their way across the sky.

Please leave me alone. I don’t understand what you’re doing to me. Please let me work this out.

She felt so saturated with emotion that she felt too heavy to move, but eventually her feet took her back to the office.

"Keith’s looking for you," Asha said as Morien sat at her desk. With a deep sigh, Morien made to get up again. "Hey..." She looked at Asha. "You look awful. Why don’t you ask Keith if you can go home?"

"No... no... I don’t want... need... to go home."

Morien crossed to the end of the room and found Keith behind his paper mountain. "Asha said you wanted to see me?"

Keith seemed to look more messy than ever. He looked on edge and pale. His eyes fluttered over the piles of paper on his desk and landed unsteadily on her. "Oh, yes. Morien, could you organise a new agenda for next week’s meeting between the police and the community leaders on the Woodhall."

Morien blinked, trying to concentrate. "A new agenda? I thought the meeting was supposed to discuss drug dealing...."

"That’s less of a priority now that the crime figures are down. I know the police are keen to follow up the general crime prevention discussion. Could you check that everyone concerned is happy with that?"

"Yes," said Morien, dully, "no problem." She turned to go.

"Oh, and Morien...."

"Mmm?"

"Your Tumblety Street proposal..." The words roused her more strongly then any pep pill.

"Yes?"

"...have you seen it?"

"Sorry?"

How could this happen? It had been officially consigned to his Pending Tray. Keith never went after anything in his Pending Tray. It was a standing joke in the unit. Why, in heaven’s name, did he want it?

"Have you seen your proposal?"

"Er... I gave it to you on Friday." She hoped she looked suitable puzzled at his question.

"Yes, I know." His gaze wandered over the paperwork again, his brow creasing. "I just wondered if you’d moved it."

"Keith, does this mean that you’ve changed your mind about it?"

Again his glance flickered up at her. "No... no... I think there’s something in it that might help us with another project... that’s all."

"Oh... well, can I help at all?"

"No... thanks, Morien. I’m sure it’ll be fine."

"Okay...." She backed away, wondering if he’d stop her. He didn’t. He flicked through a pile of folders absent-mindedly, apparently forgetting that she had even been there.

Morien went back to her desk, her heart beating in her throat.

* * * * *

Striker was glad for a few minutes break. The decision had been playing with her, her mind and hand toying with the number. She slipped into the staffroom and was relieved that she found herself alone. She approached the phone as if it was going to bite her. Dare she do this?

She had been thinking about calling all day. Hell, she’d been thinking about calling since Sunday morning. But she hadn’t. And damn she was proud of herself.

But now she felt as if she wanted to say something... even if it was goodbye.

She checked the time. 5.57 p.m. She wasn’t sure whether Morien would be home from work or not. Pot luck and the vagaries of the Tube would dictate whether she talked to a machine or had the phone slammed down on her.

With shaking fingers, she dialled the number. Her heart seemed to pound in time to the ringtone. And she heard the machine click on. "I’m sorry. No one’s available to take your call right now, but please leave a message." Brief, to the point, and with that wonderful Welsh accent. For a moment she was tempted to put the phone down and call again, just to hear Morien’s voice caressing the r’s in ‘sorry’. But then she became aware that she was supposed to be leaving a message.

And the words deserted her.

"Um... hi... Morien. It’s... Striker. I... I know I’m the last person you want to hear from right now, but... I wanted to apologise... properly. What I did was... I’m pretty ashamed of myself. I know I don’t deserve it but if you’d be willing to hear an abject and pathetic apology, please give me a call. I’m home tomorrow, my number is 555 7852...."

Ria’s head appeared round the door. "Striker, there’s a helicopter coming. They need you upstairs."

Striker nodded. "I gotta go, looks like it’s gonna be a busy night. If I don’t hear from you... I will understand. But please know, Morien, I’ll always... wish you well."

She put the phone down, and ran upstairs to join the crash team and a busy night.

* * * * *

Morien opened her front door with trepidation.

She had deliberately dawdled: taking time to finish her work, turn off the computer, make sure her desk was tidy. She had walked slowly to the Tube, letting eager commuters push past her. She had sat on the platform, watching trains come and go. As the crowds seem to thin, she got to her feet and stepped through the open doors of a carriage, confining herself in a corner.

She had almost missed her stop.

Deliberately.

And now she opened the front door.

She could see from the where she stood that the light on the answerphone was flashing.

She closed the door behind her, set down her bag, shook off her jacket and sat on the sofa. She stared at the phone.

The light blinked back at her.

With a shaking finger she pressed the button.

There was a beep.

Then silence.

"NO!" I can’t go through another night of this. I can’t.

Click. 8.09 a.m. Just after she’d left that morning.

She slammed her finger down on the stop button, then moved it to rest on Delete. But she couldn’t delete the messages. What if there was a message from Dad or Drake or... even Sophie?

Instead, she hit the play button again.

There was a beep.

Then silence. She felt herself shaking.

Her finger moved to the delete button again. If it was urgent, they’d phoned back... they’d get into contact another way. She pushed down....

...but was stopped by a voice: "Um... hi... Morien. It’s... Striker. I... I know I’m the last person you want to hear from right now, but... I wanted to apologise... properly. What I did was... I’m pretty ashamed of myself. I know I don’t deserve it but if you’d be willing to hear an abject and pathetic apology, please give me a call. I’m home tomorrow, my number is 555 7852...."

There was a pause. Morien could hear another voice in the background, barely making out the words: "helicopter", "need you".

Then her voice again: "I gotta go, looks like it’s gonna be a busy night. If I don’t hear from you... I will understand. But please know, Morien, I’ll always... wish you well."

Click. 5.57 p.m.

Morien pressed Stop, rewound the message, listened again. And found herself automatically taking down the phone number.

"...if I don’t hear from you... I will understand. But please know, Morien, I’ll always... wish you well."

Oh, Striker. Her relief was breathtaking.

She rewound again, listened again, and copied over the number in a heavier hand, doodling a flower next to it.

But then why...?

She let the answerphone play on. Then there was a beep.

And silence.

Morien stared at the answerphone. Click. 5.59 p.m. She glanced at her watch. That was fourteen minutes ago.

And it can’t... it can’t... have been Striker.

So who in the hell...?

The phone rang.

Suddenly, there was nothing in the world except for Morien and the ringing of the phone. The sound bounced of the walls, melted the apartment away from her, and screamed in every nerve in her body.

She grabbed at the receiver and the silence was deafening.

There were no need for words any more.

There was a click as the caller rang off.

* * * * *

She had pulled the phone cable out of the wall and cried herself to sleep.

But strangely felt better on Wednesday morning, as if at some time in the heavy night, a resolution had been found for her.

She would go to work. If there were any more non-messages on the answerphone that evening, she would seek help.

And Striker wished her well.

That one thought, in the maze of confusion, seemed to guide her way, and something inside her smiled. Although she wasn’t sure what.

She knew now, believed totally, that Striker hadn’t been making those calls - it was an astonishing relief... that now led her to a whole new weight of questions, both about Striker and about those phone calls.

So, Morien had showered, dressed, taken some aspirin, plugged in the phone and left for work.

* * * * *

There had been a multi-car pile up in the middle of the rush hour on the North Circular Road. This in turn had caused several minor accidents as commuters scrambled to take different routes home. Striker thought it was a miracle anybody could travel fast enough in the London rush hour to have that bad an accident.

It was certainly a miracle only one person died.

Striker herself had wanted to strangle several others. Didn’t these bastards understand that someone with head injuries was going to take precedence over someone with a slightly bruised foot? She had been bled on, cried on, sworn at and vomited over.

And after six hours of overtime she’d been called into the sonofabitch’s office and disciplined for using coarse language in the waiting area. Again.

It was midday, and she fell through her front door and onto the couch.

Danny was just going out.

"Shit, woman, you look like the walking dead."

"Nnnnnnnnh."

"Need anything?"

"Nnnnnnnnnnh."

"Satta, sis."

"Dan..." Striker lifted her head from the couch cushion.

"Yeah?"

"Did anyone call?"

* * * * *

Morien had bumped into Mrs Kantorowicz at the corner of Easthouses Terrace, and together they had walked to their door. Mrs Kantorowicz had talked about her regular Tuesday visit to her friend.

Morien had listened politely and carried the old lady’s shopping bags for her.

She saw Mrs Kantorowicz to her own apartment, then slowly took the steps up one flight of stairs. A darkened landing. Another flight of stairs....

* * * * *

Striker opened her eyes. She was still face down on the couch, fully dressed, one booted foot resting on the floor. One arm was still asleep under her. She shook it awake as she tried to concentrate on what had woken her.

The phone was ringing. The digital panel on the VHS twinkled 18:14.

She stretched out on the couch, hearing her back click satisfyingly as she reached for the receiver. "Yeah?" she said.

And a tiny Welsh voice said, "Striker, could you come over? I’ve been burgled."

Continued in Chapter 6...



[i] "If we shadows have offended..." - the beginning of Puck’s farewell to the audience in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

[ii] Gwyrionyn = Idiot

[iii] "...reit, dda. A chdi?" = "...fine, thanks. And you?"

[iv] "Dw i’n iawn!" = "I’m fine!"