Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Eight

In a third-floor corridor of the Iris Medical Institute, Dr Ben Foster fed change into a coffee-machine.  Today in one of the computer labs a pretty intern told him that he had a wonderful smile.  It  pleased him.  He was massive, fifty-six years old, but the girl still flirted with him.  Her perfume had smelled lightly of roses.  He took his steaming coffee cup and headed slowly back to his office, smiling to himself.  When he stepped into the room he froze.  The cup fell, spilling across the floor. 
     Finn was sitting behind the desk, leafing casually through a client file.
     “Mr Finn, what’re you…?”
     Without looking up from the file, Finn said, “I’m appraising our assets, Ben.  Regarding our allies.”
     A terrible feeling in his chest.  He shuddered, sat awkwardly in a chair.  “I’ve done nothing wrong, I swear it.”  He realised he sounded like a child.  “Whatever information you’ve been given is wrong.”
     Finn finally looked up at him, eyes dark but blank.  “Angel Wine has you under contract.  Breaching that contract, well, you know how serious that is.  It amounts to treason.  You’d be held liable to MI6 and Locus Point; this is a Black-Light operation.  This is beyond sensitive.  If you break allegiance with Angel Wine you’d be undermining the very sovereignty of the British Crown.”
     “I’ve done nothing of the sort.  I can swear on a thousand Crosses.  I can.  Supplication.  Light of the World.”
     Finn smiled at him.  “As long as we know where we stand.  Celia came to see you, didn’t she?”  Ben nodded.  “You did terrible things to that girl.  Terrible, brilliant things.”
     “I did what I was told.”
     “Yes, I know, but you did them with artistry.  A valuable asset, your skill with the human mind.  I’m here to commend you.  You discovered so much for us.”
     Ben allowed himself to relax a little.  He didn’t seem to be in trouble with Finn.  He remembered the feel of Celia when he’d hugged her a few days ago, so slender.
     “It made us feel like…like we were on the frontiers of consciousness research.”
     “You were.”
     He thought of the rose-scented intern, her kind flirting.  She didn’t hold a candle to Celia Gray.  Celia had never flirted with him.  Celia had loved him. 
     “Best years of my life, hurting that girl.  Monarch, Sliver…none of them compares to Angel Wine – what we achieved in this building with Celia Anne Gray.  I still have dreams about it.”
     Finn looked sideways at him, nodded.  “You raped her, didn’t you Ben?”
     Eyes went wide again, heart flushed with shame and excitement.  “How could you possibly know that…?”
     “I know,” said Finn.  “Tell me.  Tell me everything.”
     Ben pursed his lips, nodding slowly.  It shouldn’t surprise him that Finn knew somehow.  The man seemed to know everything.  Finn was undoubtedly the most intelligent and frightening man that he’d ever met.  He was about to share his secrets with this man.  A strangely thrilling sensation. 
     “Well, one night we’d just finished a trawling session and she was unconscious.  Some of the medics were fingering her, making jokes.  I couldn’t help myself.  She just looked so vulnerable lying there naked.  So I told the tech staff to leave, and…it’s the most turned on I’ve ever been.”
     Finn leaned back in the big chair, staring at him with a blank gaze.  “How old was she?”
     “Fourteen.”
     “You took her virginity…”
     Ben nodded, smiling.  “How the hell did you find out?  Did Haven tell you?”
     Finn got up from the big chair and walked around the desk, standing over him.  “Why, Ben?  It wasn’t your instruction.  Any of the other girls, fine, but not Celia.  Didn’t we give you enough pussy?” 
     Ben almost winced at the grotesque word.  He realised he was trembling.  It was a frightening thing to see Finn’s eyes.  They didn’t look real.  Maybe he was in trouble. 
     “Sir, respectfully, we took everything she had…she was beautiful.  Still is.  I do apologise.  It was only that once, I assure you.”
     “You treated her for nine years after that, Ben.  You earned her trust and her love.  She had a daughter’s love for you.  You knew that.”
     Ben couldn’t think of anything to say.  He pictured her pale naked curves against polished metal, supine, inviting.  There was a sudden stab of pain in his chest.  Ben screamed, jerked in the chair.  Finn leaned forward, pressed his palm to Ben’s chest.  Surging pain he’d never felt nor imagined.  A talon fist crushing the centre of him.  He slumped from the chair, fell to the floor beside his spilt coffee cup.  He gasped. 
     Finn stared down at him, blank eyes unmoving.  Ben realised with horror that he was in the throes of a massive heart-attack.   
       
***

Celia parked her car and entered St Patrick’s, moving through its busy, brightly-lit halls.  She recognised Nurse Peters altering a chart in the hallway to I.C; the older woman with Dr Shah who tended Louise after the paramedics found them.  The nurse caught Celia’s gaze, remembered her and smiled.  “Good news, my love.  Your friend’s awake.”
 
     Celia didn’t stop to ask questions. 
     Dr Shah and another nurse were at the bed.  Louise was sitting up.  She turned and saw Celia standing a few feet away.  “Baby girl,” she said in a soft voice, smiling.  Celia ran to her and grabbed her hands. 
     “Thank God!”  She sat in the chair beside the bed.  Tears began to roll shamelessly down Celia’s cheeks.  “I thought…”
     Louise shook her head, “Not a chance, Cee.  I’ve got a novel to finish, remember?”  Celia laughed, relieved but still crying. 
     “Oh, Lou, I was so fucking scared.”
     Louise inhaled deeply.  “Come on, I teach twenty-five kids each day.  I’m hard as nails.” 
     Celia laughed again.  “Totally.”  She leaned over, placing her head on Louise’s shoulder, closed her eyes and sighed.  “Thank God…Oh thank God.”
     On the other side of the bed Dr Shah smiled warmly at them.  “She’s going to be fine.  She’s a strong woman, she picked up very quickly.  We took her off the meds last night, brought her out of it.  There’ll be no real permanent damage to the lung, just a little scarring.  We’ll need to keep her here for a day or two, just a precaution.  She’s going to be fine.”  The doctor glanced at Louise and winked.  “You’re going to be fine.  Ok?”
     “Ok.” 
     “We’ll give you two a little privacy.”
     The doctor and nurse left the bedside, drawing a curtain around the space.  Louise turned to Celia, staring at the horrible bruise near her left eye.  “He hurt you…?”
     “No,” Celia said guiltily.  “A few superficial cuts and bruises.  He threw me around.  I’m just glad you’re okay.”
     Louise narrowed her eyes.  “Did he come back again?”
     “No.  He got what he wanted.”
     “The diary?  Fucking freak.  What a fucking freak…”
     Celia laughed amidst her tears.  “At least now you can’t say a night with me is boring.”
     Louise gave her an unsteady smile.  “Give us a kiss, Miss Gray.”  Celia kissed her, leaning over the bed.  “Mmmm, now I know what I’ve been missing.”
     Celia laughed with her fingers in Lou’s hair.  “Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty.”
     They sat together for a while.  Eventually Celia climbed up onto the hospital bed and lay beside Louise.  Though they were hidden by a blue curtain, she was unconcerned about staff finding them like that.  Louise smelled of soap.  The nurses must have washed her.  Louise traced her fingers across the bruise at Celia’s temple.  
     “So…you were really scared?”
     “Of course,” Celia told her.  “I didn’t know what to do, the doctors said you’d be fine but, you know…you see so many movies where horrible things happen.  I didn’t want to lose you in the final hour or whatever.  Did you dream?”
     “What?”
     “Did you dream, while you were asleep?”
     “No, at least…I don’t remember if I did.  The last thing I remember was him.  Like a shadow, with a knife in his hand.”
     “There was a policeman that took a statement from me; Carpenter.  I don’t think it’s going to help.”
     “What do you mean?  You said he got what he wanted, why ever he wanted it.  I don’t think he’ll come back.”
     “Ok.”
     “Anyway, if he does come back – we’ll kill him.”
     “We will?” 
     Louise nodded.  For a while they lay in silence.  “Cee, I love you.  You know that, right?  I’d do this again for you.  In a heartbeat.”
     “Wow,” said Celia, smiling.  “I’m definitely not letting go of this one…”
     Louise laughed.  “I’ll hold you to that, baby girl.” 

Celia had driven home feeling cautious but elated that Lou was going to be ok.  She needed Louise.  Why did it have to take something like this to make her realise how precious she was?  Lou was her silk thread.  She knew how naïve it seemed but Lou was her finest tether to this mortal world.  Without her Celia would have only mum’s spirit, an adolescent haunting that was somehow a comfort now.  Perhaps she could drape her mother’s ghost around her own shoulders and be buried in the most perfect death shroud. 
     But that wasn’t life.  That was a dark dream.
     
Lou is awake.  I should be filled with joy and yet I’m trembling as I type this.  I’m grateful, so grateful that she’s going to be okay.  But I know this isn’t over.  It’s beginning.  I’m a selfish bitch, but it’s like my world is becoming – I don’t know.  I must be fucking mad.  Clockhost.  What the hell did they do to me?

Celia’s hands left the keyboard of her laptop.  She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, staring at the words on the screen.  She closed her eyes.  What did they do to me?  They did something.  I can’t fucking remember.  Those blackouts.  Those damn blackouts. 
     Things were missing.  She had realised that years ago.  Bits of her life had fallen into shadow, bits of her soul…gaping black holes in her memory.  Something.  They hurt her.  She had pieced that much together over the years.  Lightning and silver scalpels.  Pain so intense that it became an echo of itself.  Celia shuddered.  Clicking backwards, like a film projector.  I’m at the mirror.  A shadow behind me, in the reflection.  Razors, sharp and silver.  I sliced open my wrists…yes, I did.  Something is wrong.  Shadows.  Clicking backwards again.  I’m in…the White & Blue Room with the Doctors.
     Naked.  Older this time.  They burnt her mind with machines.  Inside she’d tried to scream but she was limp.  They stole my strength…my voice.  Celia opened her eyes.  She shut the laptop, pressing her face into her hands.
     “Mum, what did they do to me?  What the hell did you let them do…?”

***

It happened so fast.  They had been talking and then they were making love.  She’d wanted him.  He’d wanted someone too, anyone.  Eventually, he imagined, they would have asked him to kill her. 
     Sitting on the edge of the hotel bed, Myers found himself feeling quite sick.  Celia must have been so lonely.  He’d put her friend, her lover, in a hospital bed.  He’d done far worse things.  He was scared, that was why he leapt so readily into Celia’s bed.  In fact, he was terrified.  He knew he couldn’t go back to B-Chapter.  A proof-reader would be waiting for him.  He’d be executed for murdering Mr Finn and the other man.  He wondered for a moment why the diary was so important to them, before realising he didn’t care.

The clock on the Charing Cross Underground platform read .  He boarded with the other passengers.  The carriage shook gently as blackness rushed past the windows.  He was on his way to ask a personal contact about Paris, for Celia.  Myers himself could never go back to France.  He closed his eyes, remembering a past that was always at his shoulder. 
     The house fire, the Colony, the fear he felt when he realised it was not a normal boarding-school.  At sixteen years old the Colony recruited him for ‘proof-reader’.  
     As they taught him things he’d been afraid to learn but terrified to ignore, he had never forgotten the smell of burning flesh.  And he tried to forget.  God knew that he’d tried.  He pushed the memories and the vivid scent deep into the back of his mind, aware that pining for a fictional idyllic childhood would only make him feel more helpless. 
     Myers didn’t want to feel helpless. 
     As he stood amidst other passengers, swaying gently back and forth, he realised a bald black woman was staring at him through the window in the adjoining carriage.  She was statuesque and formidable, wearing a heavy red coat and sunglasses like a mad rock star.  He’d seen her before somewhere.  The woman was hard to miss.  Then it came to him with a jolt of fear.  She tore open the carriage door and stepped through.  His hand moved snakelike into his jacket for the Berreta.  She stalked towards him, brushing past other passengers. 
     Suddenly she screamed, “David fucking Myers!”  
     The fluorescent lights in the tube-train flickered and died.  The carriage was immediately plunged into darkness. 
     Screams filled the moving train and he fired a single shot, blindly.  Red blood flared in the darkness like molten neon.  Someone slammed into him, knocking him off his feet.  He glanced up as bright light sheared through the train as it pulled up to the next station platform.  His gun was quickly in his jacket. 
     The other passengers were silent, many of them trembling, eyes darting everywhere for a man with a weapon.  The bald black woman was gone. 
     He scrambled to his feet.  The tube doors opened and Myers hurried off with the other shocked people, moving swiftly down the platform, up the escalators, and out of Leicester Square Station.

She had vanished from an underground train – unless she’d got into the next carriage somehow.  No, nobody could move that fast. 
     Myers felt icy, not just from the frigid November.  He didn’t know her name but he’d seen her before on two occasions, with Mr Finn.  She was tall and bald like him.  He suspected they were lovers at the time.  He’d shot her, he was certain – red blood, oddly luminous.  No, how could she have vanished like that?   Had she wanted the diary or wanted to kill him?  Both, he decided.  Myers was very cold.

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