No Asylum – Chapter 4

August 28, 2010


The two CSA officers stepped into the observation room, the door clicking softly closed behind them. Through the long one-way mirror on the wall, Chris could see the blonde girl arching her back and rolling her shoulders as she resumed her battle with the handcuffs. Beside him, Derek laughed softly.

“Quite the little stunner. Why didn’t you tell me you had your eye on someone? I’d have stopped trying to set you up with Candice and helped you bring her in.”

Momentarily, the urge for Chris to beat his head against the wall was overwhelming. “For fuck’s sake, Derek! You can’t say things like that. She’s only fucking 19!”

“Really?” Derek turned back to the mirror, scrutinising the girl who appeared to be trying to dislocate her shoulder so she could climb through the cuffs. Her eyes were closed, her jaw set in a grimace of pain, but she didn’t seem to be getting very far. Derek turned back to him with a big, shit-eating grin that was just asking to be thumped off his face. “Doesn’t look a day over 17 to me.” Chris’ felt his face flush with rage and Derek must have seen it too, because he punched the older man on the arm. It was light enough to seem playful, but just heavy enough to be a reminder of what would likely happen if they went toe-to-toe. “I’m just shitting you. So, what’d she do to be sitting here at such a ripe young age?”

Gripping his case file to smother the urge to rub his arm, Chris sank into a chair, pushing the file across to Derek. He’d tried his best to keep his partner from knowing about the surveillance but now, somehow, the other enforcer had found out and the gig was up. So might as well tell him everything.

“Phorbes, P. Born 21st of the 6th, 91 in Seven Oaks, Kent, UK. Daughter of Anna and James Phorbes, of Phorbes Pharmaceuticals. Moved to Hillmont, San Paro in 1999. Family home was destroyed in January 2000 in an arson attack in which both parents and one sibling were killed. Our girl was found with gasoline on her clothes, minor burns on her face, legs and hands and a sprained ankle. Paramedic on the scene claimed she was ranting when she was found, repeating the words ‘I killed them, oh god, I killed my sister.’

“After a medical examination, Phorbes was ruled incompetent to stand trial; she was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, full blown schizophrenia and possible multiple personality disorder. She was committed to St Christina’s in San Roseo, but was transferred to the San Paro Secure Facility for the Criminally Insane 3 years later following a number of violent incidents.”

“Violent incidents?” Derek had been skimming through the file and had now unclipped a number of the surveillance photos and was leafing through them. He picked two out and put them in the inside pocket of his jacket.

“She tried to escape from the facility on numerous occassions. Mostly kicking, scratching and biting was the worst it came to, but one night she assaulted a nurse with a broken shard from a bathroom mirror. The nurse, one Peter Fetcalf, sustained multiple lacerations to the face, hands and chest, and she was found sitting astride his chest stabbing him repeatedly. He sustained something like 40 separate wounds.” Chris reached across and slid another picture out of the stack; Derek took one look at it and blanched.

“Fuck, that must have scarred up pretty ugly!”

“He probably got plastic surgery. Those guys got good insurance back then.”

“And this was when she was… what? 12? 13? Christ, sounds like a right little Norman Bates we’ve got on our hands here!”

“More like Michael Myers.” Chris paused for a moment, thinking. “Maybe, anyway. Fetcalf himself made an error in judgement down in Texas and is currently doing time for selling proscribed substances.”

“Dipping his fingers into the happy pills, huh?”

“The sleepy pills, actually. He was working at a junior high school when they arrested him.”

Derek clenched a fist. “Fucking sicko. Think you’d be safe from that sort of thing in a state-run mental institution.”

“Actually, it’s pretty rife. Think about it. Whole buildings full of people who either can’t say anything, won’t say anything, or won’t be believed if they do.”

Chris’ partner nodded, flipping through the file again. “So the way you’ve been looking into this… You think she’s innocent straight down the line? Don’t think you’re getting too close to the case, do you? I mean, I can buy the self-defence thing but really…” He held up a grim picture of another man, his eye socket a bloody ruin. “This isn’t the sort of thing that’s supposed to happen, you know?”

Chris sighed, looking down at his hands as they lay folded on the table in front of him. “Not… innocent… exactly. But… she’s never been proven guilty either… I just… need to know. One way or another.”

“Well,” Derek stood up, dusting his hands as if he could brush the images of those photographs out of his head. “Now’s our chance to get her side of it, anyway. Lead on, MacDuff!”

Walsaw picked up the file again and led the way out of the room. Behind him, Derek sighed in turn, looking back through the one-way mirror at the girl, who had turned to face the door with a wild-eyed, startled look and, he noted, her hands now chained in front of her.

“Why can’t you just get bloody laid, Chris, like everyone else?”

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No Asylum – Chapter 3

August 26, 2010


Detention Centre 14 was a converted warehouse near the freightyards, away from the centre of San Paro and its incessant traffic jams. It wasn’t the largest of the CSA’s processing centres, sporting only 2 interview rooms, 30 cells and a small garage, but its out-of-the-way location meant most Enforcement Agents went elsewhere, and that suited Chris just fine.

There was still enough of the cop left in Chris to see the people he arrested as “suspects,” not plain-and-simple “crims” who deserved everything they got. He preferred to interview, not interrogate and conducted his debriefings with words, not blows. It still made him wince every time he walked past an occupied interrogation booth and heard the thumps and whimpers from within.

It kept him isolated from the other enforcers, this unvoiced but visible disdain, but there were some kinds of friends he didn’t need to make. Especially not with Derek around.

Chris had first been partnered with Derek Fitzpatrick about 3 months after losing his job on the force. It hadn’t been his choice and if it had been, he wouldn’t have made it. But he was reluctantly forced to admit that, from the CSA’s point of view, at least, the boy had been a good choice.

Derek was a good 15 years younger than Chris, still in his mid-twenties. Younger, stronger, faster and the absolute epitome of this new, brutal, ruthless breed of law enforcement. He was also, Chris ruefully admitted to himself, better looking, if you happen to like arrogant twats. Poster boy for the new San Paro with a successful arrest record proportionate to his ego.

The criminal records of CSA Enforcers prior to joining the service were purged and sealed by court order, but Chris still had enough friends in the justice department to get him a peak into things that should have been none of his concern. Derek Fitzpatrick had done time for assault and battery, ABH and GBH in bar brawls and street fights, a couple of DUIs. Two cases of sexual assault had been dropped with the charges withdrawn by the alleged victims and his wife had a long and colourful medical history with a plethora of hospital visits and two miscarriages. Since joining the CSA, Derek had racked up a number of kills in self-defence and two suspects had vanished entirely while in his custody, never to be seen again. On the other hand, a number of more minor miscreants pretty much walked away from Fitzpatrick’s custody with barely a bruise. Wealthy minor miscreants… or pretty ones. Derek hadn’t managed a successful bust on a hooker even once in his career, unless you counted the 6’4″ transvestite, LaFitte, that the boys still ribbed him about at the bar on a Friday night… if Derek was feeling mellow and they were feeling brave.

All this knowledge basically gave Chris two problems.

The first was that Derek was as bent as a six-dollar bill.

The second was that Chris wasn’t.

Yet, in spite of it all, the partnership somehow worked. Derek had saved Chris’ life more times than he could count, while the ex-cop flattered himself that he managed to curb the enforcer’s worse excesses. And paradoxically, Derek was far from the worst human being on earth. Chris had more than once seen the powerfully-built young man step into the path of fire sprayed at passers-by and onlookers and he had a kind and gentle way with victims, no matter their background or sex.

In one regard at least, he and Chris were more alike than different. They both believed in the job. Where they differed was which part of it mattered – the end or the means.

Chris was a means man, down to the bone.

He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror for a moment, the tiredness in his eyes pushed aside by alarm.

Derek lived for the end result. How he got there was no more relevant to his view of the job than the colour of the underpants he put on in the morning.

And he was alone in Interrogation Room 2 with someone whom Chris still couldn’t decide was a suspect or a victim.

Shirt-tails still untucked, tie flying, Chris ran down the corridor.

Derek was leaning on the table with both hands, looking across it at the seated Phorbes as she fidgeted awkwardly with her cuffs. He favoured Chris with a mocking smirk as he barrelled into the room.

“Morning, partner. Just been chatting with young Miss Phorbes here… She doesn’t seem to have a lot to say for herself.”

Chris looked at her. Her eyes were wide and frightened, breath coming in short pants through her nose.

He was pretty sure she didn’t have a black eye when he brought her in, or that red welt on her left cheek.

He looked Derek right in the face, then lowered his eyes to the wedding band on the man’s left hand.

Derek shrugged dismissively, giving him another grin. “Why don’t we let Miss Phorbes relax a little? We can go into the other room and you can fill me in on the case.”

No Asylum – Chapter 2

August 26, 2010


I cracked my eyes open, letting the San Paro morning sunlight wash away oddly troubling dreams of childhood nursery rhymes. I could still feel the sleek, glossy pages of the little book under my fingers. Still see my sister’s face like a slightly-tilted mirror as she pointed at the difficult words and made me say them again.

We were never exactly identical, though every physical feature matched to any eye but ours. But her greater strength was visible to me even then. It was in the sharp snap of her blue eyes, in the decisiveness of her movements.

I was always the weaker one. But that was okay. I had my sister and together we were whole.

Peony…

With a jerk, I pulled my legs up to my chest, stretching the throbbing muscles in my lower back, then swung out of bed, shuffling to the bathroom. I was halfway through my morning cleansing when the phone rang and I emerged dripping and wrapped in a towel to answer it.

The phone was new. In the space of one night, everything had changed. The apartment was bare, stripped down to the essentials for a single night – one dinner, a night’s sleep, one change of clothes – with everything else packed neatly away. Gerrard gave me an accusing, disconsolate look from his bed where the puppy lay huddled, missing his toys, so I sat on the floor beside him, scratching his ears while I took the call.

Only a handful of people had the number. Ian, naturally, and the few key people in the G-Kings that I worked with and for on a daily basis. So it had to be important.

And yes, if it was just Ian calling to say hi, that was important. The most important.

It was a rather thick Glasgow brogue that met my ear, however.

“Morning, sleepy-haid. Sorry to wake you, but there’s a job needs doing that’s going to need your special touch and it’s a bit of an urgent one.”

Grayson Fell. An intelligent, powerful man, second only to Mr Benjamin himself. Arlon Benjamin’s ideals and ideas could capture a girl’s heart and soul for the revolution, but it was Grayson’s ingenuity and ruthless practicality that made sure the body got to stay with them.

And he was uncomfortably attractive. Enough so that I found myself fidgeting and half-wanting to run, even on the phone.

“The Barony Hotel bastards have diverted a shipment of industrial explosives through the city. They’re planning to crash it into an old tenement block that Mr Benjamin is buyin’ to demolish and build some competition for them on the site. The contracts have no been signed yet, so people are still livin’ there; if they ain’t killed, Barony’ll push the blame onto us and tie the deal up in court and those people’ll no be gettin’ their money.”

“Uh…” Ian’s instructions rang in my head. “It looks like the asylum is getting more interested. It’s not safe for you to be out alone. If you need to make money, make sure you go with one of the others. Someone heavily-armed, like Del, or Dice.”

“But Mr. Fell? I’m really supposed to be lying low at the moment. I have a little problem…”

“Please, lassie! You’re the only one I can reach who’s got the skills to do this right! There are little ol’ ladies livin’ there – little old ladies, lassie!”

I stared at the shut off phone in my hand and realised I’d just agreed to be on the road inside 10 minutes. A lot of conversations with Grayson Fell ended like that. He had a way of swerving my brain so that the desired outcome trickled into my head afterwards as a fait accompli. I sighed and went to get dressed.

***

237 Nicholson Walk was a dingy, listing brick-built nightmare of a place which, with its twisting corridors, rising damp and strobing fluorescent strips probably featured in the Rapists’ Rough Guide to San Paro with a score of at least four black eyes. The flickering light and incessant clicks and electrical hum covered a multitude of sins, however, letting me ghost along the mouldering hallways without a leading shadow to betray me.

I was scouting for the point man from the demolition team, sidearm clutched tight in my sweating palm. My plan was to take out the engine of the oncoming truck with my rifle and I didn’t want unfriendly company coming up behind me while I lined up my shot.

I stepped carefully over a broken step on a flight of stairs and out into a walled courtyard that might have been called a garden were it not filled with trash and mostly taken up by a large brick utility shed. But I’d found my unfriendly company, crouching on the shed roof, ginger ponytail curling down over one shoulder while he scrutinised the passage in from the street.

I think he must have heard some indrawn breath or maybe the sudden shiver down my spine was loud enough to announce me. His gun spun in my direction and I hurled myself into cover behind a pillar.

“Come along now, dear. Just give up and you can go back to your cell. It’s for the best and we both know it.” His voice sounded casual, calm… uncomfortably intimate, as if he knew me well.

Maybe he did, if he was connected to the hospital.

I tried to sound brave. “No! I’m not going back!” I wanted to tell him… I wanted to tell him that he was wrong, that nothing good had ever happened there. I wanted to tell him what really went on there at night, what happened to lost little girls who strayed off the path in the woods and the wolves who lurked behind kindly uniforms. But fear and shame were a padlock on my tongue; the shaking in my hands worsened and the imminence of tears blurred my vision.

I should never have gone out alone. Ian was going to be so disappointed. I’d let him down again.

I leaned around the pillar and sent a random burst of fire flying into the looming brick jungle of the courtyard. Though I couldn’t see the enforcer, I pleaded with him.

“I didn’t start the fire and I’m not crazy!” Please, oh God, please, just let me go.

The last words never made it out, silenced by a sudden snap of electricity that thundered up my spine. Unconsciousness was a relief when it followed, taking me out of my mire of misery and failure, sending me back to my sister in my dreams.

No Asylum – Chapter 1

August 26, 2010


“There you are!”

Pressing close against the soot-streaked brick wall to his right, Chris slipped closer to the end of the alley. Carlyle’s car was parked facing the ocean; the Bishada was all sleek scarlet curves amidst the industrial greys and hard angles of the wharves. Dirty, distorted guitar strains leaked from the stereo, quivering the air around the vehicle.

“What are you two doing in there? Bet I can guess…” He licked his lips unconsciously, shoving stray strands of titian hair back off his face as he ducked behind a stack of cardboard boxes left to rot in the rain and the sea air, finally close enough for the mic to start picking up. Without taking his eyes from the car, Chris started to wrangle his camera from the bag at his hip, the telephoto lens frankly gratuitous at this range but too cumbersome to remove without his full attention.

Whatever the couple in the car had been discussing, it seemed to have lost their interest. That happened a lot with these two, Walsaw noted, the detail on the heavy lens strong enough to pick up the sheen of moisture on Phorbes’ lips as she tipped her head back to sigh, closing her eyes, or the individual strands of light gold that wove through Carlyle’s fingers as he stroked her hair, mouth caressing the upraised line of her throat. The torn blue paper of an airmail envelope lay limply in the man’s hand. “Probably the only limp thing in that car right now,” Chris mused, as he reflexively pressed the shutter key.

In the car, the man froze, lifting his head and looking about. Phorbes seemed oblivious, murmuring some pleasantry that was drowned out by the sudden alarm klaxons in Chris’ head. He remembered what he’d said to his partner only this morning. “Be careful. Get anywhere near Phorbes while he’s there and he’ll kill you. No hesitation, no doubt.”

“Stay in the car!” The driver’s side door flew open and the Englishman was out, his N-TEC assault rifle all but leaping into his hands from under the seat, eager to see action again. Phorbes’ reaction was almost as slow as Walsaw’s, her eyes flipping open, body stiffening in fear. “Ian? What’s wrong?” The ex-cop had no time to watch her further as he abruptly realised he wasn’t zooming in; Carlyle was bearing down on him fast with his weapon ready.

The camera slammed hard into his chest as he let it drop and swing on its straps. Grunting in pain, Chris leapt to his feet, but they disagreed with his dignity and sprinted back down the alley. Bracing himself against the cover provided by the building wall at the corner of the alley, Walsaw cursed himself, dragged his pistol from its holster and swung back into Carlyle’s path.

An inch closer and he’d have been inhaling N-TEC. The two men faced each other across the barrels of their guns, eyes locked.

“You’re…. You’re under arrest!” The hesitation felt less than manly and Chris was mortified to find himself blushing. In all his time watching these two, he’d become too caught up in what they didn’t do – the casual murders, the reckless carnage, mayhem and destruction that was so rife in this city was missing from their lives and it had made it too easy to forget quite how ruthless they could be when the situation demanded it.

Images flashed through his head of the three bullet-riddled bodies the coroner’s team had dragged from the apartment over a Korean laundrette. They’d weighed in at three pounds over their natural weight from all the lead. The rest of them was splashed over the living room walls like a fresh coat of paint.

“They’re never more dangerous than when they’re protecting each other.” Chris grimaced at himself. “I should listen to my own bloody briefings.”

“I don’t know who the fuck you are, mate, but… Under arrest?” Carlyle’s eyebrows rose, whether in surprise at Chris’ identity or scepticsm at his ability to arrest anyone with a rifle up his nose, Walsaw didn’t know.

Past the liverpudlian’s broad shoulders, he could see one wide, blue eye peeking around the corner into the alley, half-hidden by a wind-swept mass of blonde hair. His stomach clenched in a flutter of hope before a slight shift in Carlyle’s weight brought his attention back to this mexican stand-off.

Somewhere in a dark corner of Chris’ mind, he wished he’d brought a bigger gun. The pistol was making him feel like the only entrant in a dick-waving contest that hadn’t been mistaken for a tripod.

“You shot at an officer of the law! That is a criminal offense!” Not his snappiest dialogue but that N-TEC made it hard to think.

“You were eavesdropping. What if you had a gun?” The Englishman’s stance hadn’t changed, but the adrenaline-shot climate was calming. Walsaw started to feel more in control.

“I have a badge, and a gun… and cuffs… Now put that gun down and surrender.” A tiny scrunch on the broken tarmac made him flick his eyes to the end of the alley as Phorbes stepped out into the open, the butt of a sniper rifle resting against her shoulder, the muzzle looking past Carlyle’s left ear, straight into Chris’ right eye.

…never more dangerous…

Carlyle’s head tipped quizically to one side, lips starting to quirk in a smile. Control was slipping away again.

“I said surrender!” He barked the command, more for the benefit of Phorbes than her mate, who seemed to be getting more cocky by the heartbeat.

“Why’re you following us, mate?” The N-TEC didn’t shift a milimetre. Chris steadied his hand on the pistol, which had started to waver left to answer the threat from the sniper rifle. Instinct told him that pointing a gun at Phorbes right now would cost him a lot more than an arrest.

She looked terrified. Portrait of a heavily-armed damsel in distress.

“You are harboring a fugitive…” His eyes flicked back to look at Phorbes and she wasn’t there. His head whipped wildly left and right. Nothing. “Shit!”

“I think you’ve got the wrong couple.” Chris whirled back to Carlyle, every fibre in his body wanting to punch that smug grin right off the man’s face.

“I have the right one… trust me. One last warning! Put it down!” He could hear the panic in his own voice. Where the hell had she gone? This was a fucking dangerous area, even for San Paro. Assailants could lurk anywhere in the empty warehouses and abandoned buildings.

The car. She must have gone back to the car, belatedly obeying her lover’s instruction.

“Okay, okay.” Carlyle gently set the N-TEC down, raising his hands obligingly, but the infuriating grin just got wider. Did he know where Phorbes was? “Nice ponytail.”

“Good, glad you know when to give up…” He craned his neck to one side. There was no sign of her in or near the car. “Shit! She ran!”

“Going for the porn producer look?”

Chris bolted forward, shouldering his way past Carlyle, running to the Bishada. Nothing to the left. Nothing to the right. She was gone. A howl of frustration tore out of him.

“Nooo!”

He spun back to the Englishman… only to find himself staring at empty space. On the road beyond the alley, a yellow Kurai burned into the distance, the sounds of laughter drifting back to him on the wind.

Secrets and Eyes

August 26, 2010


Detective Walsaw sipped at his now-cold coffee, lowering his eye to the telescope again as one of the subjects of his surveillance bounced into view. Through the shotgun microphone trained on the Waterfront apartment, he could hear nearly everything that occurred, but he relied on the broad, short-barreled telescope and the convenience of windows to put it all in context.

Of course, he wasn’t really a detective any more. Or even a police officer at all. He was just Chris. The CSA had changed all that, with their bounty payments and brutality removing the need for salaries, pensions, evidence and trials, but the case continued to fascinate him… and he had nothing better to do.

“Hellohhh!” Subject Phorbes, alias Dolly, Dee, DeeDee or Double-D, sounded breathless and slightly hoarse as she answered the phone. She listened for a moment, shoving back the tangled mane of long, blonde hair that was clinging to her face. Her blue eyes looked wide and innocent but having listened to the apartment for most of the night, he knew that was a lie.

His other subject stepped into view, pressing a mug of coffee into the girl’s free hand. Ian Carlyle, a man with a string of outstanding arrest warrants as long as your arm, for everything from petty theft to a series of bombings… and a reputation for being a hard man to catch, despite his penchant for being a flash bastard. Phorbes took the phone from her ear for a moment, kissing him gratefully on the lips in a way that made Walsaw loosen his tie. “It’s Del.”

Carlyle looked away from the soft bundle in his arms for a moment (“Fuck knows how,” Walsaw muttered.) and said something the microphone didn’t quite catch, but from his expression, the old detective could easily guess. The guy strutted his girl dressed in… well, what would best be described as “highlights”… and then went insane at every man who so much as looked at her. It was easy to imagine what he thought about the ones who had her phone number.

His pencil scratched softly at his notebook as he wrote down the name “Del.”

His eyes snapped back to the telescope. She was back on the phone again, her expression a mix of deep worry and alarm. “Oh god, of course! I’ll tell Ian – we’ll be there as soon as we can…” If the ex-cop hadn’t known what he did, he would have thought her a truly caring person just from her face right then, but that could change like the snap of a match, and had in the past. She put down the phone and looked at her partner. Chris would have paid money (and a couple of times, had) to have a woman look at him like that. “Something awful’s happened! I’ve got to help Del… Will you come with me?”

In the seedy apartment across the street, Walsaw snorted to himself. “Thought he just did… Bastard.”

Moments Like This

August 26, 2010


“I can see our house from here!”

I shaded my eyes with a hand and looked up, laughing as Ian’s voice crackled into my ear through the headset.

“Well, OK, not really.” He sounded a little petulant, disappointed that the vagaries of geography were denying him his quip.

“I can see you from here, though!” I leaned on the sniper rifle in a way that definitely isn’t recommended in the manual. As my eyes adjusted to the distance, I could pick out little details. The glint of light from his sunglasses, the dim stripe of an armband, the reddish gleam from his hair as the sun caught it.

San Paro should be a miserable city. Oppression and death are its watchwords. Dozens of civillians going about their everyday lives are killed, maimed or broken here every day.

“Like the view?”

I laughed like a happy teenager, sprinting up the road to meet him.

Moments like this are why they stay.

***

Moments like this are why they flee.

Ian lay on the floor, blood coating his fingers as they gripped at his stomach, face contorted with pain. The echoes of my scream rang back from the warehouse walls as I flung myself to him, tear-blind to the scar-faced man standing over us with a gun in his fist.

“You put up a good fight, lad, but here’s where it ends. Slowly bleeding to death on a concrete floor.” He stepped forward, looking down at Ian while his gun remained pointed in my direction. The toe of one boot kicked at my rifle, sending it skittering away across the floor. I didn’t care.

Ian…

“But you know what? You made me wait for revenge… I’ll make you wait for death. A long, slow, agonizing wait. And we’re going to watch.” Tom was some ghost out of Ian’s past; a former mentor, comrade-in-arms… maybe even friend. Once. The scars on his face were Ian’s parting gift to him. He sat down on a crate facing us, the gun resting idly on his knee. He picked up a can of cheap beer and cracked it open with one hand, taking a swig as Ian struggled to rise, falling back with his teeth clenched against the pain.

I never begged in the hospital. Not when they put me in restraints. Not when they gave me the drugs. Not when the night porter came to my room with plans for his own little injection.

And I never begged on the streets. Not when I was hungry and cold in the rain, mazed with withdrawal and lost in this strange new reality. Not when the enforcers beat me down or cuffed and tased me until I lost consciousness.

But I begged Ian once… and I begged for him again now.

***
“It’s going to be fine.” His eyes laughed into mine, the sun behind him painting the sea crimson as it sank into the waves, the first warm, fat raindrops splashing into the cooling blood pooled on the rooftop. “But I need you to promise me something, OK?”

“I’d do anything for you.” Even as I said it, the slow change in his expression made a cold pit in my stomach.

“When… If I tell you to run, you run. You run fast and far away, and you don’t look back. You have to promise me, Doll.”

I couldn’t speak. My mouth worked but no sound came out. I shook my head over and over. No. Tears started to build in my eyes.

“If they get me, they’ll let you go. You’ll be safe. I have to know you’re safe, love.”

“But I’m safest with you!” It was a howl of pain as the tears started to flow. The prospect of a world the way it used to be; empty of him. No cocky little quips. No mad scrambling after a football across a patch of waste ground. No frenzied rolling around inside a Bishada until one of us kicked the handbrake off and it started to roll. No-one to throw my arms around in triumph or console me in disaster. No strong arms to hold me at night. No scent of his cologne on my skin in the morning.

Nothing.

Absence.

Void.

“What about the enforcers? What about the asylum? What… what… what… You promised me! You promised you’d never let me go! Never!” Like a child in a tantrum, I beat at his chest with my fists and just like that child, received the same tolerant, loving smile. A gentle hand cupped my chin, thumb lightly caressing my lips while the rain ran down my face like my tears were nothing at all.

“We’re going to be married soon, love. That means we’ll be together forever. We’re not going to lose. But you have to promise me. I need this from you, Blue.”

“I’ll do it if you ask me. But please… Please! Don’t ask it. Don’t ask me to leave you! Ask me anything but that, please…” Every fibre of my body shook. The inside of my stomach felt cold and sick, like a glass of bleach imbibed and slowly seeping poison.

Behind us, on the roof, the rain slapped uncaring onto the ruin of a dead man’s face, dripping into the remnants of one uncaring eye.

In moments like this, I envy him.

***

“Please… Let me take him to a hospital.”

I was on my knees as I faced Tom, lifting my eyes to his face when every instinct told me to watch the gun he cradled so indolently across his knee. My Doctor would have defined Tom as a man who feels powerless, and so craves power and I fed into that with every wile in my body. The desperate wringing of my hands, the blue eyes wide but not staring directly into his, slightly averted to give no threat or challenge. The deep, gulping breaths that made my chest heave and strain at the taut fabric of the minidress. The tears on my cheeks, the pleading tone, the trembling lips.

I gave it everything, for more than my life depended on it. The woman who belonged to Ian Carlyle humbled on her knees in the dirt before him, blood and grease and gunshot residue staining that thousand-dollar dress, begging for the life of her man. It had to feed that need inside him.

But cruelty and revenge were stronger. He looked right into my face and laughed.

“Look, I know you’re all in love with this cunt, but this is old business, lass.”

“And it’s over!” I didn’t realise how loudly I’d spoken til the echo came back to me. “It’s been over for five years! Please! Just let me take him to a hospital!” All guile and thought were gone, just that anguished absence lurking in the future, the cold and dreadful fear. I meant every word.

The clean steel of the gun barrel levelled at my face again.

Soft, broken words from beside me. “Dolly… run…”

It felt like something inside me tore in two. And it kept tearing. It would keep tearing forever. One endless, sick moment repeating for all time.

“Tom… please… Let her go…”

My legs wouldn’t obey even if I wanted to keep my promise. Though I did want to. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to know I was safe and wouldn’t be a burden to him. I wanted him not to have to worry for me.

But I didn’t want to leave. And the ache in my back was throbbing, the blood wet and slippery on my skin where the ricocheted bullet had sunk in, so swiftly I’d thought it nothing more than a blow from fallen debris. Maybe I was dying too and would never leave this room.

I hoped so.

I bent over Ian one last time, stroking my fingers through his hair, my other hand resting on the webbing vest above his wound.

“Dolly… You promised.” The pain-wracked ghost of a smile crossed his lips, wringing my heart like a wet rag.

“Not like this… Please, not like this.” My hair fell about us like a veil as I bowed forward over him, pressing kisses onto his face and neck, drinking in that scent of aftershave and gun oil. The sobs were strong enough that they felt too large for my body, jerking me each time one escaped. Too much to bear. An intention formed inside me; it was a warm but dour comfort.

I whispered in his ear, “Remember Peony at the waterfront.”

My tear-streaked eyes turned back to Tom but my body was twisting to the side, the cooked grenade sealed in my palm flying out, exploding in a burst of dust and grime. With that promise burning like acid in my heart, I flung myself away, behind a pile of crates, then started to lurch back the way we’d come, alone this time, crying too bitterly to see.

***
“I can’t reach! You have to take it out!” I knocked back another mouthful of scotch, straight from the bottle, as I lay face down on the kitchen table, panting, a little from nerves, a little from pain.

“I know, Blue, I just… don’t like the thought of hurting you.” Ian stood over me with my longest pair of eyebrow tweezers in his hand. “Besides, you’re nearly naked and it’s giving me ideas.”

Despite the shrieks of agony running up my nerves from the merciless disinfectant, I laughed. “Ideas they’ll stay, unless we get the damn bullet out. Now penetrate me, lover! Tweeze my mother-fucking brains out!”

“Hold still…”

“Ah you cunting bastard fuck! FUCK!” As drunk as I’d tried to get, it evidently wasn’t enough. Pain painted my vision with big neon pink spots and I screamed my lungs raw until a tinny “plink” signalled the rebirth of the bullet into a coffee mug on the kitchen counter. Relief as the agony ebbed back to a slow, heavy throbbing washed over me in blissful waves and I just lay on the table gasping, with my head on his knee, while Ian’s hands gently rubbed at my shoulders.

A loud pounding on the door interrupted our tender moment and I felt a lonely pang as Ian walked to the door and cracked it open. I heard the voice of the building supervisor outside.

“Um, Mr Smith… Look, I’m sorry to come up here again, but the other residents are really upset by the… Well, look, there are families here and… Oh god, will you please just try to keep it down when you’re having sex? The young lady is… really vocal.”

Ian started to laugh. It showed in the line of his spine, in the shaking of his shoulders, but he managed to keep it out of his voice. “Uh… Sure! Very sorry about that. I’ll try to tell her to… curb her enthusiasm. No guarantees, mind.”

I heard the indrawn breath as the Super finally noticed the blood on Ian’s hands, the strong smell of alcohol. I stuck my head around the door and gave him my brightest smile.

“Sorry, Mr K. Time of the month. Will try to keep it down.”

Giggling like maniacs on nitrous oxide, we pushed the door closed and fell into each other’s arms. Moments like this are what I live for.

***
I broke my promise at the last moment. Clinging to the door frame, I looked back, wanting one last sight of the man who’d changed my life.

And it felt like I flew as the long-barrelled Deagle shone in Ian’s hand, its loud retort blasting through the haze of smoke and kicking a scarlet flourish up from Tom’s gut.

“Always check your work you TWAT!” The toe of Ian’s boot caught him in the side of the face before the old man even had time to fall, knocking him back onto his improvised seat on the crates. The can of beer tipped sideways and started to piss its contents onto the floor.

“I’m not like you, Tom. I won’t leave you to die a slow death. Just know…”

Some tension I’d never noticed before, but which had always been there, ebbed out of my lover’s shoulders as he lifted the gun again.

“This was a long time coming, mate.”

The Deagle barked a second time as the last of the fallout cleared.

A Kick in The Teeth

August 20, 2010


My head had throbbed all morning, bringing with it a terrible resurgence of the fear and cravings for my medication. At my weakest at the worst possible time to be weak. A shopping trip had seemed the perfect anodyne and I’d pretty much robbed the last two lingerie stores dry.

Pulsing. With a familiar pain.

Eyes closed, face tipped up to the sun, the wind playing with my hair like a mischievous kitten – my ears have become so dulled to the sound of San Paro’s traffic and backbeat of gunfire that the moment at the little sidewalk cafe was one of perfect peace. An empty plate was all that was left of a light lunch but I continued to idle over a glass of vodka and orange that gave me just enough excuse to stay in the sunshine, listening to the tinny radio at the back f the shop and not go back to work.

A comfort, from this disdain. Grind away.

The life of a professional firebug, I was learning, was one of sporadic but intense demand. As specialists, we’re few and far between; most sane people sensibly shun a career that could lead to a long, agonising death. There are many who touch the role as generalists, setting fires and charges all as part of a day’s work alongside gunplay and theft. But there are those of us who love the fire, who hear it whisper to us in our dreams. It loves us, cares for us and we nurture it in return. It races through our lives, touching all our most sacred moments, burning within even when it is absent without. We do the jobs no-one else will touch.

I, I‘m looking for a thrill. Something to ease my will.

With a sigh, I finally opened my eyes, laying a couple of notes on the table, gathered up my things and set off towards the lockup where I have my workshop. I took a sharp left, habit taking me off the main road as soon as an alley opened up to me. On the sidewalks, you’re easy prey for a passing Enforcer-wagon to pick up and fling ten yards away into a wall – painful, even assuming they don’t crush you in the first impact. Still feeling slightly dizzy, I tucked my headphones in the blot out the arguments from the low-rent apartments and the conversations I really didn’t want to hear. Not if I wanted to wake up tomorrow.

A kick in the teeth.

By the time I reached the lockups, my feet seemed to be made of lead, every step heavy and slow. By the time I reached my row, I was weaving, staggering from one metal door to the next and clutching the wall to support myself. When the door to my workshop finally fell under my hands, I struggled to enter the code, then fought desperately with the door handle.

You. You may not realise…

A sharp shove between my shoulder blades sent me stumbling into the shed, into the mingled aromas of gasoline and solder, darkness broken only by scattered L.E.D.s and a periodic stacatto burst from the failing flourescent strip in the ceiling. An arm locked itself around my neck, under my chin and pulled, half-lifting me off my feet. Someone else brushed past me, shining a light into my face.

When it’s done or why…

“Yeah, it’s definitely her. Bet you’re feeling nice and woozy right about now, huh?” He patted my cheek. His accent had that scouse twang, layered with the cultivated roughness of a man who habitually forced a light voice deeper. A boy, trying to live in a man’s world. But I am not a big girl. Not a strong girl. Not a capable girl. I couldn’t even stamp on his foot with my toes barely touching the floor. “Please… please don’t hurt me.” I’ve seen enough horrors. All I wanted was to be spared this one. I should never have left Ian’s side.

What happens when you give rohypnol

The arm at my throat tightened. Instinct made me claw at it, but sometimes instinct is useless.

To a mental patient

I fought the panic down. My phone was in my pocket. I reached for it, typing where I couldn’t talk. Unable to even see the screen, for the first time in my life, I thanked the powers-that-be for predictive text.

Who spent the last 10 years

“Tom’ll be happy. Bit of a bonus, this. Bet you wish you’d never laid eyes on ol’ Carlyle now, eh lass?”

On Thorazine?

I held up the phone, showing the message to the man with the flashlight, my thumb hovering menacingly over the hash key.

Fuck all.

But it may be the best thing, it may be the best thing.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh and it may be the best thing.

A blank expression became a startled one, succeeded by a look of sheer terror. A shouted conversation I could scarcely hear over the ringing in my ears as air grew short. And then I was alone, lying on the floor of my workshop, listening to the sound of running feet fade into the distance. The phone fell near my face, the message still printed clear across the bright blue screen.

EVERYTHING IN THIS ROOM IS A COMB

Awakening

August 7, 2010


This is not my toothbrush.

I’m pretty sure about that. Mine was short and blue and the bristles were bent down and mashed from the rage that had cooked through me in the asylum. And that’s where I left it. This one… this one is a bright and vibrant red with long bristles outside and short within, cheek scrapers on the back of the racily-angled head, a wear indicator telling me it’s only a week or two old, a slightly flexible grip and go-faster stripes.

Got to be Ian’s. Which means I’m at home.

Home. That’s a shiny, new feeling.

Feeling slightly guilty, I use Ian’s toothbrush anyway.

Stepping into the shower, the first belt of water is hot enough to cook lobster and turns me roughly the same colour. Swearing like an orderly on night shift, I turn the knob back until the flow gets cooler, nudging it with only the lightest of touches. San Paro… hot and sticky as hell, filled with fights, flights and… other things beginning with F that cling to my skin until the water washes them down to memories. Cool and gentle, I let it cascade over me, resting my forehead against the tiled wall until the pain in my head goes away, freeing me to luxuriate in the warm, green scents of soap and shampoo.

Clean. It’s like a holy feeling. Yet I dry myself like I’m trying to sand something off my flesh. Something old, too deep in my skin to ever really go away.

I wonder idly what it is.

A voice from the other room calls my name. I poke my head round the door, peering timidly round the apartment. It seems empty.

“Ian?”

There’s no sound but the incessant hum of the motorway in the distance.

“P… Pea?”

Still nothing. Just a little wooden cross resting against the harbour wall. I’m alone.

I go back into the bedroom and start pulling on clothes, trying to hide the knot of anxiety in my chest. Halfway through dressing, I give in to temptation and pluck Ian’s hoodie from the laundry basket, hugging it to my chest and inhaling the scent of him, rubbing my cheek against the soft fabric of the hood. For a little while, I curl up with it, enjoying the quiet, the comfort, letting the din inside my head subside.

The smell of bacon and eggs nudges me out of my reverie, suddenly savagely hungry. Life is about to go on.

A Window Over Anfield

August 5, 2010


“So… What d’you wanna see?”

Ian was back in full “Peacock Mode,” preening and grinning from ear-to-ear to find himself the centre of my attention and completely certain that, whatever I asked him to do, I was going to be impressed. Feathers all fluffed and fully prepared to flash the tail.

Tail… My eyes drifted downwards and I forced myself to yank them back up. I was trying to be annoyed with him. At his confidence, at his cockiness… At anything that would give me the fuel I needed to hold back, to stay aloof.

I needed not to like this guy, but it was too late for that. The smug, cock-of-the-walk demeanour was more fun than offensive; he made me laugh so easily, taking any jibes I could dish out and shooting them back with a ready wit. The preening, rather than self-indulgent, was flattering. Ever since the moment I met him, I felt like I was the only girl in the world and while I knew he could probably do that to anyone, the impression wouldn’t shift in my mind.

Yet still… I looked for bricks to put in the wall between us that he was steadily tearing down.

“How about you show me some ball control? Not seen much evidence of that so far.” I fought the impulse to smile, but it was so hard to do when he was smiling back, setting clouds of butterflies fluttering in my stomach and causing… other feelings… other places.

“Ohh, you’ll be surprised. I have excellent ball control skills.” He kicked the ball up with an indolent nudge of his toe, rolling it idily up his foot, then flicking it over to the other, bouncing it a few times before flicking it back. As he settled into a rhythmn, juggling the grubby football from foot to foot, sending it arcing up to bounce off one knee, then another, he snuck a glance over at me, as impish as a child peeking at a birthday present. I was caught, open-mouthed and staring, eyes lit up with a child-like delight of my own, shaking my head in astonishment.

It was pretty fucking cool.

“You’re so precise! How can you… How is that possible? With your feet!” He wasn’t even looking at the ball now, each touch of his foot or knee controlling its flight exactly, always knowing just where it would go, how to move to intercept it, make it bounce back unerringly on target.

He was doing the very same thing to me, but I could see on his face just how much he enjoyed watching the flight, even though he knew already where it ended.

I felt like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. And paradoxically, I loved it.

Football had been Ian’s first love, his passion growing up and into his early adulthood. He’d told me of a youth spent sneaking out of school to practice, stealing into games at Anfield stadium, a whole life revolving around his home team and the dream of one day playing for them, right alongside his hero, Steven Gerrard. He was easily good enough; he’d been lined up to play in front of a Liverpool talent scout before a knee injury took everything away.

This should have been a sad moment, a bitter reminder of all the things that never were, but it wasn’t. The instant his foot touched that ball, it was as if a terrible weight lifted off his shoulders. There was nothing forced, nothing feigned, just a pure and simple joy that suffused him, made him move as lightly, as lithely as a dancer.

I giggled helplessly. “You’re like a little boy!” Unable to resist the lure anymore, I darted in, skirt flying as I danced around him, trying to hook the ball away.

“Aw, hey! I assure you, I’m all man, baby!” He pivoted, easily keeping the ball away from me while continuing to juggle it to and fro.

I frantically tried to wave the negative connotations away. “Not… So not what I meant! I mean… You’re different, with that football. You seem… lighter… carefree… Like you’re in your element.”

“Maybe.” His smile was thoughtful but that aura of contentment still hung around him. “Hmm… What else can I show you? You’ve seen Roladinho, right?”

Television had been my only window into the world in the asylum; most of the books were shallow paperbacks from the sixties and seventies, painfully dated to my young mind though I’d devoured all of them, or heavy-duty psychological texts aimed more at the doctors than the long-term inmates, so I’d grown up with my eyes welded to the glowing screen, grasping at any straw that might tell me how things were supposed to be. Because within the asylum, they never were.

The only screen was in the common room, so it catered only to permitted and shared interests. Football was a pretty common one, so I knew of the brazilian midfielder and his clever footwork.

I nodded, eyes wide at the intimation that Ian might really be that good.

Moving at an easy jog, he started to dribble the ball towards me. “Just try to take the ball off me. Kick it away as I run past.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. It sounded simple enough, so I suspected a trick. Sure enough, when I darted my foot out to intercept the ball as he kicked it towards me, it rolled the opposite way. I was positive his foot had hit it on the other side. Further attempts yielded the same result; the ball rolled back to Ian as if on elastic, never quite where I thought it was going to be. He jogged easily in a circle around me, chuckling at my confusion.

In its own small way, it was wonderful, like a conjurer’s magic trick expressed in the Liverpudlian’s confident athleticism.

“Ok, so that’s the Ronaldinho. Wanna see the Ronaldo?”

“Hell, yeah!” I clapped my hands in glee, completely caught up in the display.

He kicked the ball to me and I was immediately nervous. Whatever he needed me to do, I was pretty certain I couldn’t do it competently enough and with all my heart, I didn’t want to do anything to spoil this stolen, innocent moment in the midst of all the violence and bloodshed. Just a guy showing off with a football for a girl while gunfire and explosions boomed in the distance and the scream of twisted metal rang from a crash on the overpass.

He laughed at my timidity, a low, rich chuckle that was both inclusive and infectious. “Don’t worry, just try to kick it past me, off to the side.”

“You want me to miss you? Oh! I can do that!” I took a short run towards the ball, focusing determinedly on a point just to his left, then skidded to a halt as he started laughing uproariously, clutching his knees for support.

“What?”

“Oh god, you… You stick your tongue out of the corner of your mouth when you’re concentrating!”

I went bright crimson, hastily pressing my lips together, then covering my face with my hands. The ground refused to oblige and swallow me whole.

“It’s very cute.”

I peeked at him through my fingers. The quirk of his lips was amused, but kindly so and his eyes sparkled at me over the top of his sunglasses. I slowly dropped my hands and he grinned encouragingly. “Now kick it!”

My foot connected solidly with the ball, sending it bouncing and skittering over the waste ground towards a group of barrels a little behind Ian and to the left. It was quite wide of the mark and I assumed he would show me some lightning-fast move to intercept it.

Instead, he looked at the ball, then immediately fell to the ground, clutching his leg and howling. I had run to his side before I realised what he was doing and started laughing, offering him a hand up. “He’s a big ham with the injuries, huh?”

He nodded aimiably, dusting off his jeans as he stood. “Mmhmm… Now, what else can I show you? I know!” He pointed up out of the little courtyard and across a neighbouring building site. I squinted, trying to spot what he was pointing at.

Above a broken wall and past an intersecting pair of cranes, a satellite dish hung on the wall of a nearby tenement block. For a moment I couldn’t fathom why it should be of interest, then I gasped. “You can’t! You can’t possibly hit that from here!” Then I shrieked in surprise as a bullet whizzed past my ear and buried itself in the wall behind me, flinging up chips from the rotten brick surface.

“Get into cover.” He gave me a gentle push towards a walled corner that stood between us and the sniper on the cranes, then walked serenely after me, pulling a long-muzzled revolver from its holster on his back. Humming softly under his breath – a tune I could almost recognise – he took two careful, calculating shots around the corner of the wall.

The gunfire ceased and he walked back to the football as if nothing had happened. “Now, you see that dish?”

I nodded, my chest feeling too tight to speak. I knew I should feel… that I should judge him, somehow, on that casual kill, that serene act of murder, but in San Paro, I had already learned, it was kill or be killed, and besides…

It was really fucking cool.

I didn’t breathe as he took the kick. The ball arced up, dwindling elegantly into the distance. It flew over the enmeshed arms of the cranes, then dropped slowly towards the dish.

It hit high on the left, bouncing off to fly out into the street. All I could do was shake my head in astonishment.

“Well, Doll, I’m afraid that’s it for today. Got a couple of things I need to attend to, but see you around later?”

My mouth was still open. He tucked a finger under my chin and pushed it shut, then walked off, laughing softly to himself.

Just before he reached the end of the alley, he glanced back over his shoulder and winked, knowing I was still watching. I stepped hastily back around the corner, out of sight, then fell back against a wall, covering my mouth with one guilty hand and staring up at the sky.

That guy… he’s so fucking cool.

It’s Purely Chemical

August 4, 2010


The bleating of the alarm clock was relentless, unappeasable. I cracked one eye open, gazing with bleary bafflement at the strange ceiling as the room lurched and blurred and the pounding in my head took on the rhythm of the clock’s incessant klaxon. I mashed at the buttons, one after another, until finally the infernal machine was silent.

There was nothing else on the nightstand.

No tepid glass of lifeless tap water, tasting of old pipes and disinfectant. No tiny plastic cup with its precious payload.

So many vibrant colours missing. The earthy yellow of flupenthixol dihydrochloride. No fat, chalky tabs of aripiprazole with their sharp scent of oranges as they dissolve on the tongue. No bright blue capsules of chlorpromazine to make the whole world and all its worries fly away.

Just wood, hard and worn under my palm, scratching painfully at skin that felt sanded away, raw as meat, every nerve laid bare.

No pills.

I sat up, swinging my feet over the edge of my bed. There was a pulse in my head, like my brain was free-floating, swinging about on its stalk and bumping awkwardly into the walls of my skull. Like an electric shock right through my brain.

The room was strange to me. The bed, its covers ripped and rumpled, did not know my frame. My back ached from sleeping in it, the taste of vomit was raw at the back of my throat and my stomach ached like a thousand periods come all at once.

There was blood on the bare matress. It looked old and brown. The phone was ringing.

I picked it up. “Hello?” My voice wandered down the volume spectrum, sounded too loud at first to my raw ears. I cranked it back up when I realised I was whispering. “Who is this?”

“You don’t have your pills, Priscilla. You’re going to need them very soon now.”

The doctor’s voice was clear, patient and patronising, as always. Like she would have me be a child again, as pliant and pliable as I was back then.

“How did you get this number? How do you know where to call me?”

“You called me, remember?”

I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember calling her. I didn’t remember coming here. A quick glance at the clock (a glance that became a stare, eyes clinging to the digital numbers while the room tipped to and fro) told me the last three days were completely lost. Or perhaps I’d simply misremembered the last day I knew. I stayed silent.

“You need to come back, Priscilla. You need your medication. Things are going to be very, very unpleasant for you without it. Why don’t you turn yourself in? Things can go back to the way they were. You can go back to getting better.”

“It’s been ten years… Either I already am better, or I never will be.”

I put the phone down and started pulling on my clothes. They smelled clean and felt soft and warm, comforting against my skin. I went through the pockets, pulling out a couple of grubby notes and a handful of small change.

Not enough. Not enough for a buy, and what drug dealer keeps Thorazine in his stocks? A crumpled softpack of something low tar surfaced next and I tapped one out, straightening it between my fingers before pressing it between my lips and lighting it.

I needed coffee. Coffee and time to think. Somewhere the room would stay still.

Lurching from side to side, I staggered downstairs, got in my car and drove with single-minded focus to the only place I knew in this whole, strange city.

“Give me a coffee…” I stared at the old man, groping in my memory for some kind of name. He had to have a name. It was important. “…Marty.” I shoved the handful of notes across the counter at him as the room blurred and withdrawl grasped the back of my head like an invisible hand, slamming me down violently into a chair.

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