For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

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

* * * * *

Chapter 6: The Rock and the Wind[i]

"Hell, it’s a mess."

Everything... everything... had been turned over, emptied, ripped apart and spread over the floor. Drawers regurgitated their contents, papers had been tossed across every surface, books lay like broken bodies on the floor, and what looked like milk slowly drip-dripped its way from a white pool on the surface onto the tiled floor of the kitchen area.

And, in the centre of it all, Morien looked as fragile as Striker had seen her in the hospital. She watched as, heavily, Morien sat down on the sofa.

"Careful where you walk," she said in monotone. "There’s glass by your feet. They smashed all the photo frames."

"Have you called the police?"

"No."

"You should...."

"Striker, they haven’t taken anything."

"What do you mean...?"

Morien’s voice was monotone, almost as if she an unenthusiastic tour guide of a heritage property. "There’s some of my mother’s jewellery in a drawer over there. They’ve been through the drawer, but it’s still there. The remains of the TV are there." She nodded towards it. "They’ve taken the VHS apart. The parts are just over there. The stereo’s still in one piece though...."

And her face crumpled into tears.

Something deep and sweet and infinitely raw tore open inside Striker as she saw the first tears fall from Morien’s eyes, and without a breath she had crossed the room to put her arms around Morien.

"Hey," she said, "don’t cry... don’t cry. We’ll get this sorted out, okay? Everything will be okay."

She looked down at Morien’s bowed head. The day’s headscarf had been pulled back slightly, revealing an expanse of auburn hairline. There was a freckle there. A tiny, pale freckle, that peeked out from just under a short, copper strand. And she couldn’t resist any longer. She lowered her head just enough to rest her lips on Morien’s forehead, and there she placed the tiniest, most tender of kisses.

Morien shifted, needing more, and slid her hands around Striker’s back, holding the tall woman to her. She didn’t want to let go. Ever. She felt strangely safe: Striker’s gentle reassurances caressing her skin, her firm embrace supporting and comforting. And the confusion and stress of the last few days poured out of her.

Neither of them knew how long they sat there. Morien’s sobs had subsided and her steadier breaths were warm and moist against Striker’s shoulder. Striker felt the movement of noise against her.

"What?"

Morien moved her head. "I’m sorry."

Striker pulled away from her so she could see into her face. "You’re sorry? What have you got to be sorry about?"

Morien gave her a small smile. "For messing up your t-shirt." She looked away.

"Hey.... Hey...." Striker drew Morien’s face towards her. "You have got nothing to apologise for. Look at this. Anybody would get upset at this...." It was her turn to look away now; her hand dropped to her lap. "Not to mention the fact that I ought to be down on my knees begging your forgiveness."

She felt Morien’s hand on her leg. "Don’t," she said. "I don’t want you getting glass in your knees and bleeding all over everything."

Striker got up. "Okay," she said, "I better get the glass cleaned up so I can apologise properly. You got a broom or something?"

"There’s a dustpan and brush under the... somewhere on the kitchen floor."

Striker made a careful step towards the kitchen, but stopped and turned. "Morien, are you sure you don’t want to call the police?" Morien sighed. After February: the police, the questions; she didn’t think she could bear it. Not again. She looked into Striker’s eyes, the pale blue gaze penetrating her with quiet intensity. The sincerity in those depths was awe-inspiring. "I’ll make the call," she said. "I’ll stay with you."

"You’ll stay with me?"

"I promise."

Morien nodded.

* * * * *

There had been a slow procession of visitors marking time up the stairs, appearing in the doorway, commenting on the mess: serious-faced uniformed officers; an intense, rain-coated detective; a distressed Mrs Kantorowicz, who made a tearful admission "I had left something for my friend in my flat. I go back to find it. I leave front door open just for a few minutes...."; and Morien’s landlord, ringing his hands.

Striker had salvaged mugs, tea bags and even half a pint of milk from the kitchen, and had made tea. She wasn’t very good at making tea, but had found herself improving with practice. She had watched as Morien was questioned, seemingly endlessly, questions fired as if they were bullets.

She had started to regret calling the police.

"Miss Llewelyn, you have no idea who might have done this?"

"No."

"Do you think it might be connected with the attack in February?"

"I don’t know, really."

"You say that nothing was taken."

"Nothing seems to have been. There might be something I’ve overlooked, but all my valuables are still here."

"So, do you think they might have been disturbed before they took anything?"

"It’s possible."

"Could one of your neighbours have disturbed them?"

"I suppose so."

"So you think one of your neighbours might have been around at the time?"

"I know Mrs Kantorowicz was out for the day. Mr Phillips, just below, he works similar hours to me."

"Well, we will check with them. Mrs Kan... the lady downstairs might have seen something if she left the door open. Miss Llewelyn, do you think they were looking for something?"

"What?"

"Do you think they might have been looking for something?"

"Such as what?"

"I don’t know, I’m asking you."

"Detective, I don’t own anything that would mean anything to anyone but me."

Which started a new rash of questions.

Striker fixed her eyes on Morien’s face, watching the tiredness wash like a tide across her features. Her head turned and she caught a green gaze, a little smile, and she moved to the sofa to sit next to her. Morien reached for her hand and the gesture amazed her. She held on for dear life.

The detective, Sergeant Manifold he’d called himself, was young, blond-haired and eager. He had launched himself into another question.

"Miss Llewelyn, have you received any threats recently?"

Morien paused, comforted by the feel of Striker’s soft, warm palm beneath her own. "No, not threats."

The detective looked at her, puzzled. "Not threats...?"

She could feel Striker’s eyes on her.

"I’ve been receiving phone calls."

Striker’s hand twitched beneath her own.

"What phone calls, Miss Llewelyn?"

What phone calls, Morien? Phone calls... phone calls.... She envisaged her fingers tapping their way across the telephone keypad.

Morien was speaking. "They’re not threatening or anything. They ring then hang up."

"How long has this been happening?"

"Since Sunday."

She sensed the catch in Striker’s breath. Striker had a vivid flash of another time, another detective, questioning her, threatening her. Tears and recriminations rang in her head. But she hadn’t done it. She hadn’t done it this time.

"And you don’t hear anything else?"

"No... nothing."

"Do they call regularly a particular time of day, for example?"

"It’s changed. I spent the day with my brother on Sunday. When I got back I had an answerphone full of silent messages. They’d phone almost every hour throughout the day."

"Did you keep the messages?"

"I deleted them. They scared me."

"And when you came home. Were there any further calls?"

"Yes, one phone call. When I answered they hung up."

"So they didn’t call again that evening?"

"No."

"And since the weekend?"

"They’ve phoned just after I left for work. The answerphone picked it up."

"Any more?"

"There was another message, just before six o’clock, and someone’s phoned just after I got in and sometimes later in the evening."

"Have you received any of these phone calls at work?"

"No."

"Any today?"

Morien started. "Oh, I don’t know." She hadn’t even looked at the answerphone. All she’d taken when she’d phoned Striker was Striker’s number and the devastation of her flat. Now they could all see the light was blinking, and Morien felt the now familiar surge of panic swell within her. She reached out and pressed the button.

Beep.

Silence.

Click.

8.12 a.m.

Beep.

Silence.

Click.

11.42 a.m.

No other messages after 11.42.

Of course. "They were checking up on me? Checking to see if I was home?" Morien’s voice sounded childlike. She now held Striker’s hand with both her own.

Manifold only said, "Or making sure you were out. Could we take the machine? We might be able to pick something up." Morien nodded.

"Miss Llewelyn, you say these calls scared you. Why didn’t you report them immediately, to us or the phone company?"

Morien paused, and took a deep breath. "I thought I knew who it was."

Striker shifted beside her. Morien glanced sideways. Striker’s head was turned away, her face and expression hidden by hair escaping from her plait.

"Who?" asked the detective.

"I doesn’t matter now. I know I was wrong."

"It would help us if we could eliminate this person from our enquiries."

"No." Morien shook her head firmly.

Sergeant Manifold sniffed loudly, glancing between the two women.

"Miss Llewelyn, who else has had access to your flat?"

"Access?"

"Friends, family, other visitors...?"

Morien thought. "My brother and his wife, my grandparents have visited. My father was here a few weeks ago... and there’s Sophie, of course."

"Sophie?"

Sophie?

Striker’s head jerked up.

"Sophie Cometti. She lives here too." Morien caught the sergeant’s fleeting look around the apartment, taking in its compact nature, it’s one and only bed.... "She’s my girlfriend."

And Striker’s insides backflipped. WHAT?!!! Where the fuck did she come from?! She could feel her heart hammering against her ribcage. She felt sure that Morien could feel it pulsing.

She glanced round, and realised that Manifold was looking at her. He dragged his attention back to Morien. Striker closed her eyes and tried to breath.

"And where is she now, Miss Llewelyn?"

"She’s in South America. On a charity work placement."

"How long has she been there?"

"Since the beginning of the year."

"And she hasn’t been back since."

"She hasn’t been able to."

"Would there be anyone who holds a grudge against her?"

"Sophie? No, not Sophie. Besides, everyone knows she’s away."

"Do you think there could be anyone who might resent your relationship?"

Striker opened her eyes, she could have sworn just in time to see the detective looking away.

"I... I can’t think of anyone."

Manifold nodded slowly. "I have to ask you this. Were yourself and Miss..." he glanced at his notebook, "...Cometti on good terms when she left?"

"Yes! Yes, of course."

"And you’ve been in touch with her since she’s been in South America?"

"Oh yes. We write to each other all the time. And she phones when she can." Striker could hear the smile in Morien’s voice. It burnt her. "She’s based in the middle of nowhere, up in the Andes, so she hasn’t got easy access to a phone, unless she visits the nearest town."

To Striker, the contact between herself and Morien felt like a flame. But she couldn’t let go. Her free fingers drummed on the sofa repeatedly.

The detective regarded their joined hands. "And would there be any reason why Miss Cometti would be concerned about your relationship?"

That was it. "What the hell are you implying?" The words were out of Striker’s mouth before she’d even realised what she was thinking.

Manifold stared at Striker, but addressed Morien. "If you could answer the question, Miss Llewelyn, I would be grateful."

Morien’s hand slipped out of Striker’s. She straightened her skirt. "No. There is no reason why Miss Cometti should be concerned about our relationship, detective." And it suddenly felt as if Morien had taken charge.

Sergeant Manifold stood up, and Morien followed him. "Well, thank you, Miss Llewelyn, that’ll be it for now. Of course if you or your friend think of anything or wish to talk to me, you can contact me at the station." He looked again at Striker. It was a look that said, "I haven’t finished with you." Striker imagined him as a little smoking patch on the floor. The smoking patch continued to speak: "The chances are that it’s a simple burglary..."

"...but how would they know my...?"

"..and unfortunately, there’s little real chance of catching them. Of course, you’ve been lucky, they don’t seem to have taken anything. Here’s your paperwork..." he shoved a document into Morien’s hands, "...you’ll be needing that for any insurance claim." He bundled up the answerphone, and pulled his raincoat around him. "There’ll be a forensic team over tomorrow morning. Thank you for the tea."

And he was gone.

Striker leapt after him. "Tomorrow?! What’s she supposed to do until tomorrow?!"

But he was already halfway down the stairs.

"Stupid, fucking bastard," she only half-mumbled.

Suddenly, the flat seemed eerily quiet. It was dark outside. The rain fell on the June night, shuttering the rest of the world behind their closed doors, behind their curtained windows. Little individual dramas behind every wall: hearts breaking, memories haunting, souls crying....

Striker found herself at Morien’s front door again, half expecting it to shut in her face. It didn’t. Morien stood amid the wreckage of her life and looked at her.

"That’s why I’m sorry," she said.

Exhaustion crashed over Striker until she felt her knees begin to buckle. She managed to step back into the apartment and closed the door behind her. "What?" she said, her voice flat. Her mind was thrumming with a single word: girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend....

"I’m sorry for not telling you."

"Telling me what?"

"About the phone calls."

"Oh," Striker smiled, weakly. "You thought it was me?"

Morien nodded, shamefaced.

"I don’t blame you," Striker said. "I don’t blame you at all." She scrubbed her face with her hands, as if this would help her make sense of the last half hour. "After what I’ve done...."

"You read to me."

Striker removed her hands from her face.

"What?"

"You read to me in hospital, didn’t you?"

"You remember? Coma patients aren’t supposed...."

"I remember. I can’t believe I forgot." She looked round her flat. "I suppose I can tidy up a little now, change the bedclothes...."

"You can’t stay here."

"I can’t leave it. The lock’s been forced. The door won’t close."

"Any thief would have to get past the front door and Rottweiler-woman downstairs, wouldn’t they? Anyway, pack up anything you don’t want to lose sight of and come back with me. We’ll tidy up tomorrow."

Morien didn’t miss it: "We...." She took a step forward and gently moved her arms around Striker. "Thank you."

Striker stood awkwardly for a moment. Her conscience taunted her. Girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend....

Fuck you, she responded and returned Morien’s embrace.

Continued in Chapter 7...



[i] Reference to the poem "Truth" by Stephen Crane.