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.

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