This is a story about terrible, horrible, smelly things. But, they're the kind of things that our great cities and nations are built on. Literally. I was inspired after reading the wonderful, very odd 'Underground London' by Stephen Smith. I couldn't put that book down, and it's full of lovely, cringe worthy things that will have you laughing at every turn. It was also helped into being by the constant dancing of two familiar ladies belonging to Renaissance Pictures et al through this poor author's head. I own nothing bar the bottle of cooking sherry beside me, and hope that no one thinks badly of me for writing this piece. And don't worry about the spelling, it's all Queen's English.
Expect maybe a few wee cheeky moments between the two lead characters, who happen to be of the same gender. Nothing explicit, don't worry.
Thank you to Simon, who skimmed this in such a state of drunkenness that I can't really thank a beta so much as a gamma. Perhaps a delta. Thank you very much, Simon, and enjoy Peru.
Please enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this. If you'd like to mail me some comments at firstname.lastname@example.org I'd be delighted to hear from you.
The thrill of the hunt, the ripple of excitement that shivers through one with the first whiff of a new story stalked slowly down Bernie Matthews' spine as she stepped off the Docklands Light Railway train. Even the gloom of the overcast, slightly miserable, rainy day did little to dull the edge of her anxiousness to dive straight into the story, to run full tilt and grab the story by the throat. Her shoes softly thumping on the damp pavement, she strode along to her destination.
What did, however, dim the slightly manic gleam in her eye, was the sight of a couple of dozen people milling around a small finger buffet. Not exactly the high turn-out she'd been promised, but better than that feature she'd run on the top-ten kinds of condom last month. Realising that if the buffet was in full swing (or as full a swing as several dozen retired professionals would likely allow it), she'd missed the lecture from which she'd intended to gather the majority of details about her story. Biting her bottom lip, she scowled in the general direction of anyone who looked less disorientated than herself.
"'Ello there, Young Lady," a round bellied man called, obviously (she decided) noticing her press tag. "My, but you are a tiny one to be wanting to go trampin' about them pipes!"
Frowning slightly, she'd attempted to somehow make the name tag on her lapel on her chest more noticeable without bringing the rest of her to the attention of Mr Dozen Chin Rolls.
"I reckon we'll loose you in the waders!" he laughed, his belly jiggling like there was no tomorrow. The stubble on his round chin reflected the light coming in through the marquee windows, and Bernie found herself momentarily fascinated by the way his chin rolls took on a quality not unlike that of a bird's wing viewed under different angles of light. The roiling flesh shimmered in the slanting light, opaque one moment and dirty brown the next. The appearance of a piece of sausage from between two o f the rolls sent her leaping backwards.
She straightened and pushed her spectacles further up her nose, fussing with her hair as she approached a man in an ill-fitting suit and tie, nervously smoothing his shirt. The crooked name tag on his chest either signalled a figure of authority within the Thames Waters Utilities, or another journalist.
She breathed a slight sigh of relief as he appeared to be the former. She opened her mouth to ask him about the event, pen and notebook poised and ready, when he scuttled off to start herding the guests through into a locker room. With a grunt of frustration, and a furtive stop at the buffet table, she followed the crowd.
Chin Rolls was holding court, it appeared, distributing the items of clothing that would hopefully keep everyone dry, clean and septicaemia free. "Hello, Young Lady," he beamed, kindly eyes shining down at her. "Well, I didn't reckon we'd find a coat for you, but look 'ere, is one of Skinny Mickey's old ones."
Bustled into a corner, she pulled the disposable white overalls up over her jeans and jumper, rolling them up twice at the cuffs. She hoped her dubiousness was clear enough to all and sundry. A high visibility vest followed, as well as thick socks and massive gloves not designed for hands as dainty as her own. Feeling slightly ridiculous, she turned back to get her waders. Chin rolls smiled at her and winked in a friendly manner, doling waders out left, right and centre.
"So, Young Lady, what shoe size are you then?"
"Five, please" Bernie said, casting a glance at the man beside her who was walking off with a pair of size twelve boots.
"'Ere we go, Young Lady, now, stick them on and find someone to help you with the straps now. Young Man," he called, "wait for your helmet, Young Man!"
Bernie tramped somewhat dejectedly back to her corner, stepping into the enormous boots and pulling the straps up over her shoulders. Another Flusher, as the sewer workers were referred to, helped her adjust the straps over her shoulders.
"Oi, Benny, this Miss 'ere, 'er straps is too big, Benny!" he called, prompting Chin Rolls to wander over. She looked around in despair, realising that nearly everyone else was one their way back outside.
"My, my, Davy, this is terrible. Young Lady, if you go down them sewers in them waders, they'll be falling all over the place.
Bernie raised one eyebrow dubiously and tried not to point out the fact that the waders were currently snug enough to be cutting into her crotch quite painfully. Benny and Davy set about attempting to secure the straps, eventually taking her vest off and securing the straps with bulldog clips. Once the waistcoat was settled about her shoulders again, she was handed a helmet with a light on top and ushered towards the nearest man hole.
"Benny, you didn't tell me we had one more!" the man in the suit said. "I've just sent the last group down with Big Rob!"
"Well, 'oo else can take this Young Lady down then?" Benny asked, scratching his chin again and distracting Bernie from the worried looks on the suited man's face.
"I have to go down," she said with authority, "I'm a journalist, reporting for Time Out."
Suit's eyebrows raised. Time Out was a very popular magazine, and a good review might encourage people to come to their next exhibition (that of how water entered the homes of London, as opposed to how it left it). "Well, I'm sure Benny'll take you."
"I can't, Guv," he said, genuine distress in his eyes. "I've got a chest infection, been told not to go down until the antibiotics are finished."
"Davy?" he asked, casting a worried glance to Bernie.
"I can't neither, Guv, got an open cut on me back. Can't go down, doctor's orders."
"Well, there must be someone free," Suit said, nervously eyeing the locker rooms and hoping he wouldn't have to go down and leave any further publicity to Benny and Davy. A figure dripping in all sorts of unmentionable muck and mire was plodding towards the lockers, and he ran up to them.
"Excuse me, oi!" he trotted over, leaving Bernie to hear the apologies of both men at the manhole. The mire drenched figure turned and he grinned widely. "Lucky, Lucky Lucy! Oh, am I ever so glad to see you, my dear."
"Jaz," she mumbled, picking a piece of flotsam off her shoulder, "what can I do for you?"
"Oh, there's this young lady over there, a reporter, and she'd very much like a tour of the pipes, if you wouldn't mind."
"What's stopping you lads going down?" she asked, leaning against a bin that smelled better than she did.
"Well, doctors orders for the lads, and I have to stay here in case anyone comes wanting a chat, you know." His expression left no doubt that he wasn't too pleased with the idea of leaving Davy and Benny as the official representatives of his emplyer.
Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes. "Well, how long? 'alf an hour?"
"Bit more, go on, give her a decent tour, you know all the good spots, my dear, please, she's from Time Out!"
Lucy raised an eyebrow, dislodging a lump of muck. If a broadsheet, such as the Times, had been sent, the tone of an article about their line of work would be condescending at best and downright rude at worst. If a tabloid had been sent, they'd either be the next humanitarian mission for misguided middle aged, middle classed do-gooders or the company would be slandered for its already somewhat dubious methods of operation. But a magazine like Time Out might be different. Showcasing events in London, and generally encouraging the public to visit, it might have something positive to say about their Sewer Week.
"All right then, but I get tomorrow morning off, all right?"
"Of course, my dear," he said, smiling gratefully. "Now, she's over there, be gentle, she's very little."
Bernie found herself being guided to the man hole and watched nervously as Lucky Lucy vanished down before her. Benny and Davy, smiling and joking with each other, clipped a d-ring to the top of her vest, keeping a hold of the rope as she walked down the greasy, slippery ladder. She suspected that even if she did take a tumble into London's finest sewer water, neither of the two gents up top were likely to notice above their loud, mirth filled conversation. Their voices booming from above, they echoed around the circle of light visible over the top of her head.
At the bottom of the ladder, Lucky took her under one armpit and lowered her down. Bernie smiled nervously, and swallowed thickly at the stench. It was unbelievable. Nothing could adequately describe the smell of the silty muck she was wading through. It wasn't even water, it was like some kind of thick soup with crunchy bits underfoot. Croutons of human waste, she thought ruefully, as Lucky held onto her shoulder.
"Now, be very careful, Miss. Never mind taking big steps, keep your feet on the ground. If you slip an' fall, well, it'll be very nasty indeed," Lucky said.
"No doubt," Bernie muttered, feeling her head slightly jostled as Lucy flicked her head lamp on. The streaming walls around them dripped slowly and surely into the mire of the sewer, and the hiss of water running into thousands of different holes, drains and tunnels echoed around them. The light of their lamps seemed to float suspended on the surface of the sluggish water, which was probably just as well, considering what undoubtedly lay not too far beneath the surface. The ripples of light, drawing the bile to the back of Bernie's throat, were much more pleasing reflected on the roof of the sewer tunnel, where they danced like some kind of exceptionally smelly aurora defluo-alis.
The added bonus of looking at the roof was that it meant not having to look at the little scraps of toilet paper floating happily by. She was quite disturbed when, after glancing at a particularly rough section of brick work, she noticed a few scraps hanging like bunting, flowing in the odd, ripe breeze that blew through the tunnel.
"So," she asked, plodding behind Lucky, "do you mind me asking a few questions?"
"Not at all, Miss," she said, glancing behind with a smile nearly as dazzling as the sixty watt bulb perched over her forehead. "We're underneath the greatest city in the world," she said with obvious pride, "an' me an' the boys keep it all goin' nice an' easy like."
Bernie blinked several times, slightly blinded by the bulb. However, she did mange to smile a strained smile at the obvious enthusiasm in Lucky's voice for what she considered one of the least appealing jobs in the world. Having the details about the Sewer Week from the utility company already, she wondered if a more human approach might keep her mind off the suspiciously solid lumps of jetsam that occasionally buffeted her legs.
"So, why did you choose to work here?"
"Well, my old man did, for thirty years he went down these very tunnels and did the very same job as me. An' one day, must have been about seven years ago now, he took me down here, on one of these very days, an' well, I fell in love with the place."
Bernie grimaced slightly at the massive sluice gates they passed, knowing that tons and tons of raw sewerage waited behind them, kept at bay to allow visitors to walk through the Wick Lane sewer system without having to wade up to their chests in waste. "Really? Even then?"
"Oh yeah," Lucky said off-handedly, "I love the tunnels, like, all the passages and old tube stations, an' the vaults and places. It's a real amazing place down here, once you get used to it."
"I can't imagine getting used to the smell," Bernie commented.
"Oh, well that's where I'm lucky," the taller woman said as they rounded a corner, Bernie keeping a death grip on the rope running along the wall of the sewer. "When I was a mite, my old mum came up to the toilet one night, hearing me screamin' the 'ole bloody house down. Seems I'd decided that if tooth paste could go in the mouth, it could go up the nose as well. Took them three days to get it all down, and by the time they did, couldn't smell a bloody thing at all."
"So that's why they call you Lucky, because you can't smell?"Bernie asked, hiding a small smile.
"Oh no, they call me Lucky because they all reckon I was bloody lucky the toothpaste in me ears didn't deafen me as well. Made 'em sharper, is all, I've never had a problem with ear wax since, you know."
Bernie, feeling a little bit woozy nodded. "So, are there many other women working down here? I've only seen men."
"Not that I know of, but, blimey, it can be hard to tell like, we're all just covered in muck down here. Besides, they all knew my dear old dad, all absolute gents, they are. Well, once they get out of earshot, they aren't."
Bernie nodded absently, navigating around a nappy and nearly stumbling on something unseen underfoot. Lucky steadied her and smiled. She launched into a long, rambling guide of the tunnels they were in, pointing out famous buildings they were beneath and grinning widely when tube trains thundered in the chasms around them. The drips of water off the walls and the pounding of the trains wrapped around each other like a secret language, Bernie thought, chattering away as seven million people trampled on the ground above them, hardly passing a thought to the sewers and tunnels that brought water in, swept waste away, brought them to work, carried their electricity, hid their money and sat nestled on the remains of two thousand years of history.
So lost was Bernie in florid mental descriptions of the tunnels that she was forced to experience the truly unpleasant experience of running into the back of a person who'd spent the entire morning in the sewer.
"Oh, we'd better move, Miss, I reckon I can hear some water coming."
"Water?" Bernie demanded, panic creeping into her voice. "You said they'd shut everything off, for the tourists!"
"Well, they did, but we're a bit deeper than the other tours."
"What?!" Bernie had shrieked, whirling Lucky around to face her. "What do you mean, 'a bit deeper'?"
"Well," Lucky said, folding her arms over her chest defensively, we bloody well are! Jaz told me to bring you to a nice part of the sewer!"
"Nice!" Bernie shouted, turning her head wildly, "nice? There's no such thing as a 'nice' sewer!"
Lucky looked both hurt and offended and seemed to pout slightly in the gloom, prompting Bernie to pray she'd washed her face recently. "It is too a nice sewer! Look at this brickwork!" she'd said loudly, slapping her hand on one of the curved walls and sending a spray of water splattering into the gloom. "Brilliant masonry, nice and even."
Bernie looked around wildly, from the offended Flusher to the endless, inky black caverns around them. "Can we please get out of here?"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry, the worst flood here never even comes up to me chest!" she said smiling soothingly, before looking down, and down again, at the irate figure before her. Her smile faded and she nodded, grabbing her by the hand. They weren't in any particular danger, not really, it would take a massive storm to completely flood the tunnels, but she wasn't too eager to present a soggy, disgruntled journalist to her boss. There went her morning off, she thought grumpily. The water was pressing around her calves now, nearly reaching the little journalist's knees.
They hurried through the sewers, Bernie towed along behind Lucky as the water continued to rise slightly. In a sudden flash of inspiration, she'd made a sharp turn into a very, very small side passage, booting lumps of excrement out of the way as she went, Bernie cursing a streak behind her. The pair slipped and slid through the narrow passage and Bernie whimpered slightly as water started sloshing around nearer and nearer the top of her waders. Eventually, they reached a very old, very rusty ladder and Bernie felt Lucky lift her up onto the rails and give her backside a push, urging her upwards.
Unexpectedly falling over the top of a ledge after pushing through a hinged manhole, Bernie pulled herself up and peered down into the sewer, watching the nauseating display of waste roll by, at a depth of at least waist height (at least for her). Lucky hopped up and grinned at her, kicking excess muck off her steel toed and soled boots, sending a used condom flying to smack against a wall. Bernie rolled her eyes and lay on her back, attempting to get her breath back.
She lay panting, watching the Flusher before her close the gate. "Christ, Lucky, if you weren't covered in human excrement, I'd kiss you."
"Naw, we was never in no real danger, Miss, none at all." Lucky said, grinning lop sidedly at Bernie and winking. She had, Bernie decided, quite a fetching pair of waders that seemed much larger than any others she'd seen. Shaking her head, she'd rolled onto her stomach and shook her short hair.
"Where the hell are we?"
"In an access tunnel, near Whitechapel."
"Whitechapel?" Bernie asked, incredulous. "We were nowhere near there!"
"It's only about a mile from here to Puddling Mill Lane, and you travel an awful lot quicker underground than you do above ground. We're nearer to St Mary's though, we'll go there, see if we can get out."
"St Mary's? I don't know that one," Bernie said, watching as Lucky led her through the access tunnel. Smaller than the sewer, and much more cramped, the damp, clammy air seemed even more insidious here. At least there was an explanation for it in the sewer, but in a tunnel meant for electrical maintenance it seemed downright spooky.
"Oh, it was closed off around sixty years ago, no trains there now. Probably used as a bomb shelter in the war. If we go there, we should be able to either get out there, or we can find somewhere, anyway. No problem."
They walked in silence, their lamps reflecting off concrete walls, cables running thick along them. Lucky was humming a song and Bernie sighed.
"Some job, eh? That must happen all the time."
"Yeah, but I'd usually just stay down there, not a big problem. Just didn't want you getting all wet and mucky, it'd be horrible."
Bernie smiled a small smile and trotted along after her taller companion, listening idly as she chatted about London and the secrets beneath it. So lost was she in planning her article that she didn't hear Lucky asking her a question. Caught in a bright and inquisitive gaze from a mucky face, she asked for the question again.
"Well, I said, Miss, why you became a journalist."
"Well, I wanted to tell stories, I loved them, so I took an English degree in university, hoped to get some plays or stories published, even a poem or two."
"And did you? Anything I would have read?"
"Probably not, just published in the Hull student paper, one of them got nominated for a prize. Couldn't keep writing them though, too busy with the journalism."
Lucky nodded sagely. "I used to spend all my spare time down my mum's garden, growing veg an' all, but then I moved into my little flat and I haven't had anywhere to grow, 'cept the balcony, but it's not the same."
Bernie didn't exactly see the link, but it seemed important to her guide, and alienating the only person likely to get her out of this mess was the last intention on her mind. Nodding, she sighed. "I would have loved to stay in college, I worked in the bar, scribbling away the whole time, but, well, I just thought I could do more important things with myself."
"Such as publicising the sewer system?" Lucky asked, in such an earnest voice that Bernie nearly burst out laughing. While seeing the importance of a properly functioning sanitation system on an intellectual level, she didn't think she was ever likely to tear up at the sight of sluice gates or smile fondly at old fashioned man hole covers, as Lucky was. Each to their own, she thought. She couldn't imagine Lucky being happy behind a desk at all.
A loud crack and a squeak brought her out of her reverie, and she looked on as Lucky twirled her hat around one finger, beaming down at the carcass of a rat roughly the size of a small sheep. The stain (unique in its red, as opposed to brown, colouring) atop her yellow hard hat could have been a medal of honour for pulling babies out of burning buildings and going back for the washing machine, if the proud smile Lucky was giving it was anything to go by.
"Got one of the buggers," she said, grinning toothily and popping her hat back on her head, "never knew what 'it 'im."
After walking for what seemed like hours, Bernie was finding her irritation hard to control. She was hungry, thirsty, hot, tired and most worryingly, badly in need of a toilet.
"Are we nearly there yet?" she'd asked for what she was sure was only the second time, but Lucky would have put money on it being at least the seventeenth.
"Well, there's a short cut up ahead, I think, it leads to St Mary's, but it's a bit of a squeeze."
Bernie grinned up smugly and put as much of a spring in her step as she could without wetting herself and nodded. "Lead on then, Lucky."
Lucky, glad to see her companion at least a little happier had quickened her pace and they'd come to a small ladder, leading a short distance up. After checking for more rats (and slightly disappointed when she found none) Lucky had retreated down the ladder and boosted Bernie up. The tunnel was even tinier than the one they'd left, pressing in on all sides as the tall woman wormed her way through. Bernie had fairly skipped, nearly starting to whistle. Lucky scowled slightly, and couldn't really stop the smirk that spread over her face when Bernie slipped over an old plastic bag.
Reacting quickly, she'd reached forward and grabbed the petite woman before she'd been able to collapse onto her backside. Setting her upright, and straightening her helmet for her, she'd grinned and patted her on the shoulder.
"Come on then, let's keep moving."
And move they did, until they came to slight widening in the passage where Lucky paused for a moment, staring at a slightly ajar open door. "That wasn't like that the last time I came through here," she said thoughtfully.
"What's in there?" Bernie asked, hopping straight through the door and peering around, the narrow beam of her lamp barely illuminating anything. Lucky peered in after her, noting a pile of rags in a corner, a few items of brick-a-brack on a wooden crate and a slightly stale smell were all she could detect. She looked to Bernie, intending to tell her to hurry up, when she saw the other woman frozen in shock at the shelf, her shoulders trembling. Lucky strode over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder, gripping her gently.
"Miss? What is it?"
"Jesus Lucky, fuck, look," she said, holding an upturned bowl in her hands. Lucky's eyes widened when she realised that it was no bowl, but the smooth curve of a cranium. Discoloured and patchy, its eye sockets peered out from under a stern eyebrow ridge, reminding her of her grandfather. Most of the face was missing, but when Bernie turned it around in her hands, the hole in the bottom of the skull (the foramen magnum, for all interested in such things) through which the spinal column passes was clearly visible.
"God, shit, Miss, we really need to get out of here, someone lived here."
"And collects human heads!" Bernie said, panicking.
"It might not be human," Lucky said, weakly. Bernie glared and whirled, rushing out of the room.
"Come on then, let's get out of here!"
"What! You can't take that with you," Lucky said, horrified at the notion. "It's evidence, that is!"
"And the murderer will know we've been here anyway," Bernie said, indicating their track on the floor.
"It might not be murder, they always pull a few skulls out of the Thames."
Bernie rolled her eyes and rushed off, Lucky trailing after her. Even if it wasn't murder, she reckoned, then it was still an archaeological artefact, and the London Museum would probably like it. And, if it was a murder, well, then at least they'd have something for the police. She hurried after Bernie, sweating profusely under her gear, her boots clattering down the passage. She saw chinks of dirty light here and there, and realised that they were getting nearer and nearer the surface. The London streets would be much, much safer than their underground warren if there was a madman lurking down here.
She caught up to Bernie at a junction, the journalist glancing in both directions and clutching the skull as best she could with her huge gloves. "Which way?" she asked breathlessly.
"Left," Lucky said. She started off, but her eyes widened and she pulled Bernie back, hugging her close and hissing in her ear for her to be quiet.
"Shit, there's someone there!" she said. "Fuck, excuse me manners."
"Yes, but be quiet."
As quiet as they were, it wasn't long before they heard shouts from behind them and Lucky cursed the tunnels. In a place as noisy and cluttered as London, you wouldn't think that two pairs of boots rattling over concrete would make such a racket. Unfortunately for them, the acoustics in the corridor were carrying the sound right to the ears of their pursuers. The shouts were getting no louder, but they weren't getting any quieter. Turning a corner, they reached another intersection and paused.
"Which way, Lucky?" Bernie hissed, breathing heavily.
"Left brings us near another old tube stop, but there's no telling if we'll be able to get out."
"There's a drop into a storm drain. If it's been raining, we'll get soaked."
Bernie paused for a moment and frowned. Momentarily considering a game of cat and mouse with a homicidal manic in an abandoned tube station, she shook her head and strode right. After a few moments, they came to a manhole, which Lucky pried up and they dropped through into ankle deep water. The lid clanged shut, and Lucky led them south, towards the river. It was about a mile away, and she was hoping the little drain would join up with something larger sooner or later.
Tube trains roared in the earth all around them, and it was impossible to tell from where the giants were coming. Over, under, sideways or down; it made little difference to the pair of them. When Lucky started humming the Yardbirds, Bernie reached back and smacked her, telling her to be quiet. The drain was much easier to negotiate than the sewer, but it was still far from pristine.
After what seemed like an eternity, they found themselves rushing towards a huge grate, their escape blocked. Lucky peered at the sheer drop outside the drain and gulped as the Thames waters swirled around the edge of the wall. Bernie smacked her in the arm and pointed to the left, gasping at the very unusual and unique view afforded of London Bridge.
Hours later, sitting miserably on the back step of an ambulance, sipping hot tea, the pair of women replayed the past few hours over and over in their minds.
A passing river boat loaded with American tourists had waved back and chugged on when it saw the pair waving out of the iron grating and tossing curses after them. Finally, after shouting till they were hoarse, a barge had stopped and heard their story, immediately phoning the Thames Water, police, an ambulance and the fire brigade. Once the Thames Water gang had arrived and opened the grate (cunningly designed to be opened to remove blockages) they'd been bustled away by paramedics to be checked over. By the time they'd been rescued, the water level had passed Bernie's hips, and hypothermia wasn't far from anyone's minds.
Happily, all seemed fine with the pair, apart from the unholy smell, and they sat awaiting the return of the detective.
"Well, ladies, may I say that you have had a busy day, and I shan't keep you much longer." The twinkle in his eye, Bernie decided, was entirely inappropriate. "We knew that someone was down there, the Tube attendant reported it. He tried to get you pair back, but you were too quick for him, he's getting on a bit, you see."
"And the skull?" Bernie asked, partly dreading the answer and partly salivating at the idea of breaking such a story.
"The skull, yes," he said, smiling again, "well, as you can see here, it's been numbered," he said, pointing towards a small serial number on the base of it. It began with a four digit number, others continuing after decimal points, in the grand tradition of nineteenth century classification.
"Well, we got an pathologist in, and she's very, very sure that what you found is, in fact, a poor little chimp. She recognised this code and phoned the Natural History Museum, who lost it many years ago."
"A chimp?" Bernie asked, nearly dropping her tea. "A bloody chimp? What about that little nest?"
"A homeless man's been living there for months now, he must have fished it out of the muck somewhere. The museum think it might have been stolen a hundred years ago. They're very grateful for its return. Quite an adventure, eh?"
Detective Smith walked off, examining the skull with a smile on his face. Bernie turned to Lucky, her face a mixture of disbelief, relief and annoyance.
"So we just spent that whole time running around with a chimp skull, trying to evade a Tube worker?"
"Got caught in that drain for nowt too," Lucky reminded her, not looking best pleased. "After that, I'm taking the next two days off. Jaz can fuck off if he thinks I'm leaving bed for the next few days."
"I'm going to call my office too," Bernie grumbled, "and quit. No more shit jobs for me, no offence."
"None taken," Lucky replied evenly, peeling herself out of her silver blanket and handing it to a chuckling paramedic. She sighed and looked down the river side, noticing a small stand a few minutes walk away. She held out a hand for Bernie and grinned. "Come on, let's go over there, get a sausage and some chips, eat them on the bank. What do you say?"
Feeling, and smelling, like a drowned rat, Bernie didn't feel particularly inclined to do anything other than go home and mope. Her gaze travelled up the mucky arm, past the violently fluorescent vest and suspenders and into kind, bright eyes, crinkled at the side in a wide smile. Short dark hair flopped around as she cocked her head in invitation, pulling the smaller woman up.
Bernie tucked her arm into the crook of Lucky's elbow and grinned up at her, her nose wrinkling at the ripe smell.
"You really, really need a wash."
"I know," she said, as they began to walk towards the vendor, "I'm a bit far away though, I'm afraid."
"I'm only six stops away from London Bridge, you know."
Lucky raised an eyebrow and grinned at her companion. "That an invitation?"
"I have a tub."
The EndReturn to the Academy