The Footstep Thief

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Chapter 19

My escort drove away into the night, leaving me behind in a pool of light. The wind played with some trees, enticing a few leaves to dance with the moths in the arc of the lights before fluttering to the ground. Some stray clouds scurried across the sky, late home for dinner. A stiff breeze had blown up this evening, but brought no change other than dropping the temperature a few degrees. No coming storm foretold disaster, to hint at evil portents lurking on my horizon. No Orson Wells would emerge from the gothic gloom, a brooding Rochester to my Jane Eyre as the fighting elements foretold our tragedy.

With a final glance at the clouds, I pulled open the door and began my night of wandering empty corridors. This part of the university had surely been forgotten by the coming of the Friday night; until a few hours ago heaps of people would’ve roamed here – well, at least a smattering of people in every corridor, with maybe one or two in each stairwell. Now I saw no one.

Reaching my destination, the stench of paint once more clawed at my nostrils. Maybe the smell had aged a little during the week, or maybe each new colour added a slighter different twang; either way, the odour seemed deeper, and even more pungent. Tonight my sleep-deprived brain would stand no chance.

I passed through the front rooms into the tearoom to collect my mail. The stack of flotsam shad vanished, and the walls no longer wore their coats of baby-pooh. Instead they now dressed in a pale green, with a band of darker green – almost an olive – highlighting their skirting. I thought it a vast improvement – plus someone had brought all the tea-making things back in here.

Despite the smell, I switched on the kettle. As I waited for it to boil I walked over to the pigeonholes, where my little slot had accumulated quite a bit of mail. I pulled it all out and dumped it in my bag, carefully extracting Steve’s USB, which I slipped into my pocket. If I left it along with my mail in the pigeonhole I knew I’d forget by morning, and I didn’t want anyone to know where I’d hidden it.

Turning from the pigeon-holes I let out a pathetic squeal. “Melody! You gave me a start!” She’d materialized almost on top of me, reading. I hadn’t heard her.

“Stephanie! Oh my god, I didn’t even see you. Are you early or am I late?”

“Both, probably. Where did you appear from?”

“Oh, I was just finishing up in the back lab. I’m off to see a band at the Adler Bar and thought it just as easy to hang around and get some stuff done rather than go home.” She slotted some envelopes into a few pigeonholes. “Last job of the night,” she said, with a look at her watch. “Goodness, I didn’t realise the time. I’d better go change. Hope your night’s okay.” With a wave she was gone.

The kettle had long boiled by the time I found the nightly to-do book, since in the redecoration someone had used into as a stand for the sugar and tea bags. Since they’d used a flyer to protect the book from even more stains, in my sleep-deprived state it made finding the damned thing that much harder. I was almost in tears by the time I cleaned off the bowls to read about the Adler Bar being the place to be. No wonder this place was deserted; the main band had started over an hour ago. I tried pulling off the paper but it was stuck to the cover, held fast by spilt coffee and sugar.

Sniffling, I dumped the book in my bag. Next I made my cuppa, slung my bag over my shoulder, then, cup of tasteless tea in hand, made my way to the lab. On leaving the tearoom every step crackled, since the hallway was now lined with paint-splattered plastic. It’d even taken a foothold in the doorway of the lab.

Just about every light had been left on; I’d readjust them all to my liking later. At my desk I reversed of the tearoom procedure: bag off my shoulder and onto the floor, miraculously unspilt cup of tea onto the desk, sit down in my chair. Although some of the excess furniture had vanished, moving about in here still required feats of mountaineering, especially with a mug of tea in hand. For the moment I just need to sit, maybe put on some music, and plan my night.

I took my laptop from my bag, along with a small bag of USB drives with some of my movies. I took Steve’s drive from my pocket and added it to the collection. It’d be safe enough there for the night, plus this was a respectable enough place to retrieve it in the morning. Otherwise, I could just see it falling out of my pocket and into a forgotten corridor where I’d never find it, or even worse, down a toilet.

I flicked on my work computer and, while waiting for it to get its act together, opened the to-do book to tonight’s date. Nothing. No list of jobs, no requests, not even a joke or a doodle. It seemed everyone had disappeared early, with no thought of the night to come.

I turned to my computer, but it still cycled through its own rituals. My own laptop was ready and waiting. Sipping my vile tea, I wondered what to watch. Maybe Rebecca, with the gothic air of Manderley reflecting the hauntings around me. Or maybe I should just play some music, since everyone else was off listening to a band.

Looking at the flyer stuck to the front of the book, I took another sip of tea. It seemed everyone was off listening to a band at the same place, just at a different time.


I rubbed my tired face and slowly stretched where I sat. Despite the empty book, I still had things to do. There always were things to do. Each incredibly mindless and baseless, requiring no thought at all, but they kept me busy as the rituals of the night passed, removing all need to think.

My pager beeped as I finally sat back down at my desk. A few specimens awaited collection. I managed to stop myself before looking at my bare wrist to check the time, only to discover the place didn’t even have any clocks on the wall. I’d never noticed that before. Wall clocks belong to the past. Not even having the decency to be twelve hours inaccurate, my pager informed me it was ten forty-six in the morning. I woke my computer from its own slumbers to discover the night was still young, at only a quarter to eleven.

I scanned my list of jobs, crossing out three and numbering a few others, then walked over and readjusted some settings on a machine at the back of the lab. Now I had a while before anything was due; a perfect time for a wander to collect those specimens, then I might even fill the time to midnight filing the results.

Besides, I needed to stretch my legs. I might’ve had little sleep today, but I’d had even less exercise. I needed to get myself moving, if only a little.

My bag lay on the floor. With Dave’s stones and all my photocopying it was heavy to lug around, but I didn’t want to leave it behind. I slung it across my shoulder, the strap stretching across my body to balance the weight. As I did so I heard the main door to the labs swing shut, followed by loud, clunky footsteps with no hint of stealth. Soon the footsteps started popping as they passed the tearoom and walked on plastic.

I stood my ground. I saw no point in hiding, with every light in the room blazing. Even had I the courage to crawl under my desk, my shadow would spill across the floor. Lifting the shoulder strap over my head I held it in my hand, ready to swing my bag at any comer.

A man’s bulk filled the frame of the open door. For a moment I couldn’t see his face, but as he walked into the room the silhouette materialized into a security man –I didn’t recognize him. Not built for a light footfall, the room resounded to his footsteps.

“Evening,” he said. “Hope I didn’t startle you.”

“Oh, hello,” I said, casually resting my bag onto the chair but keeping a hold on the strap.

“Dean’s requested we do a round through here twice a night. Everything okay?”

I nodded. “Everything’s fine.”

“Don’t know if you should really be here on your own. Anyone could walk in.”

“Who would want to?” I said. “The stench is enough to drive most away.”

“How on earth do you put up with it?” he asked.

“I don’t have much choice, really.”

The security man grinned and nodded towards the back of the lab. “The other labs open?”

“Only the ones down the corridor.”

“Thanks. I may as well check those.” He turned to leave but paused, looking as if he were about to ask me to diagnose a rash. “Ever seen the Grey Nurse down here?”

I simply shook my head.

“One day. Maybe one day.” He headed towards the door.

“If you do see her, will you tell me?” I called after him.

“I will, luv, I will.”

He disappeared from the room and down the corridor, every step crinkling on the plastic. I could almost hear paint dripping onto the man’s shoes.


Those specimens still waited so patiently for me to collect them. Once more I slung my bag across my shoulder, but its weight proved daunting. Only my paranoia dictated I took it everywhere with me – surely I could leave it behind? I lifted the thing off my shoulder and pushed it under the desk, where it lay mostly hidden by my chair. However, I removed Dave’s folder. It was easily carried, and I couldn’t leave it behind, not after all the effort he’d put into it. Then, with a slow breath to steady my nerves, I set off on my rounds, the plastic now crinkling under my feet. I didn’t turn off any of the lights.

I planned my route via the far side of the building, where I paused by a window. The cupola was dark; that security man wouldn’t be calling me any time soon with sightings of the grey Nurse.

After a few flights of stairs, followed by two corridors then a few more stairs, I entered the tunnel. Since that sighting of Dom’s foreboding figure earlier in the week my world had crumbled, and I’d avoided the place. What if I saw him again, despite the ridiculous hour? The memory was odious enough.

The tunnel remained bleak. The stench hadn’t changed, nor the half-hearted lighting. Even the shadows echoed. I could feel a B-grade horror movie in progress here, the type which always demands something even worse to lurch from the darkness in the last reel; but honestly, what could happen tonight that hadn’t already swamped me from day one of this week? I’d learnt how Jason had lied and cheated his way to success, and now Dom walked beside him, disseminating chaos. Gillian wove as many half-truths as Jason, but although her glory days lay back in high school, she hadn’t been reduced to working nights in a job which meant nothing. I still earnt a living amongst people of no honour, and not only did I dwell in a house of hypocrites, I’d grown jealous of them. Today the Dean had entered the fray, but I saw no meaning in this morning’s talk: a warning, to sound me out, or to play me as everyone else did? I simply had no idea.

Maybe a director could somehow tie all this together, making life flow seamlessly from one scene to the next, with the option of a fade out – but my life kept proving a mash of all those bits in between. I’m still waiting for a day of immaculate hair with perfect makeup – or immaculately dishevelled hair with perfectly applied imperfect makeup. I’ll never fall asleep and awake as a princess or a goddess, or even a dwarf with a pet unicorn. I can’t even wake up elegant.

At least the tunnel floor remained relatively dry, for it wasn’t raining outside. Outside. What was it like outside, at this hour? A moon drifting across the heavens, moving slowly for she knew she had all night. Moon-shadows would play across the ground. At this time of year she was often up well into the day, the price of her luxurious tardiness. By now the bugs circling in the lights would be gone, as would any bats or flying foxes, but there’d be the call of an owl, and the scurry of something beyond the shadows. Maybe some music would drift across the campus, maybe all would be quiet. Closing my eyes, I could feel the cool breeze, touched the scent of the sea.


My specimens collected, the night relatively young; I decided I had time to visit the old bridge. In my more lucid moments I wondered if I could guess where I was in the university simply by closing my eyes and smelling; now, however, as I walked I noticed nothing around me. The corridors had all been painted with the same dreariness.

Near the bridge the air-conditioning had gone into overdrive, and I hugged my cardigan around me. The vending machine still guarded the door, its mechanical hum echoing down the hallway. Suddenly I craved a fake sweet-vanilla coffee. Although it tasted nothing like the offerings Kayl brewed for me, (indeed, it didn’t taste like coffee at all) the addictiveness of the chemical concoction had proven exponentially proportional to my tiredness. I quickly scanned the choices on offer. There were no drinks for sale, and for once I rejected the offering of Twisties. Although the week neared its end and I was yet to try them, I also decided against the fruit pastels. After all, I juggled bags of specimens in one hand with Dave’s folder and my filofax in the other.

Once more ignoring how Use Of This Door Will Lead To INSTANT DISMISSAL, I somehow managed topin Dave’s folder against my side with one arm and swipe my card with my free hand without dropping a thing. I pushed the door open with my shoulder and stepped down onto the bridge.

The sweep of iron spanned the darkness. No one else was here – the reason I’d come. The bridge was the only safe place where my dazed mind could think without anyone disturbing me, although I half suspected I’d come here to sit in mindless quiet.

I walked to the middle of the bridge and sank down, my back against the railing. The metal felt cool. Gingerly laying my specimens to one side, I opened Dave’s folder. Luckily I’d also put a pocket torch inside; in this darkness it was impossible to read otherwise. I turned the torch on, but instead leant my head back against the flowery ironwork and closed my eyes.

“What you up to?” Dave asked, suddenly sitting beside me.

“Christ, you gave me a shock. You’re worse than Melody at appearing unannounced.”

“I don’t see why. Surely you’re used to me popping up every now and then. Besides, it’s such a peaceful place here, perfect for contemplation. Which is why, I believe, you’re here.”

I nodded. “The Book of Death,” I said. “I’ve seen. Well, not inside it, but I saw Dom holding it. The bastard was actually stroking it.”

“So it does exist. And you think it will hold all the answers.”

“I need to know.”

“But you do know. Really.” He stared at my wrist. “Hey, you took off your watch.”

“Yeah, well, time’s relative and all that. Don’t think I need to wear it anymore.”

My brother smiled. “Good for you.”

“You don’t miss much.”

“I’m your brother. It’s my job to look after you.”

I blinked back the tears, unable to look at him. “So, it exists. What do I do now?”

“That’s up to you. But, you know, it’s time I went. Has been for a while.” Dave reached over and patted my hand. “I mean, really went.”

“But you can’t,” I began, and stopped, because he had.

Once more I rested my head back against the railing and closed my eyes. How would I get through the nights now, without Dave around?

The minutes dripped by.


I woke with the flashlight resting in my lap. I couldn’t say how much time had passed; ten minutes, perhaps an hour. The bridge lay still in darkness, and fortunately none of my specimens had fallen through the gaps in the iron work to the ground far below. All I could see were the stars high above, and the outline of my hands in my lap, a translucent red in the light of my torch. Lights shone out from the various buildings around me, but the cupola stood in darkness.

And Dave was gone. Truly gone, because he’d never really been here. Most of those times I’d talked to him I’d been half asleep or day dreaming, just trying to make myself feel safe. In that time between wakefulness and sleep I could talk to him and explore things unconfrontable by either day or night. But Dave was right. It was time for him to go.

I gave the photocopies in my lap a cursory glance. Dave had once said something about Gillian reading everything he left lying around. All these things I knew, but only remembered now. Perhaps another reason why he chose to hide his discoveries.

And Dave had said I knew all the answers. That was why he went.


I made it back to the lab to find a couple of plastic containers and a note on my desk.

An offering from Jim – he’s been baking all day. An apology, really, as I won’t be able to make it for breakfast tomorrow. Our great aunt’s in the hospital, she mightn’t make it through the night. Some other time,

Henryk

I’d half-forgotten about our sort of date, but still I felt disappointed. This was my last night; by the time I came back in a week the world would’ve moved on, and I’d be forgotten. Kayl might keep teasing me, but I suspected that as soon as Henryk left I simply vanished from his radar. Then I felt selfish for feeling upset, considering the guy’s great-aunt was dying. I wondered if he was working tonight, or sitting by her bed, or maybe both.

To console myself, I took the meal out to the tearoom. It smelt delicious as it heated in the microwave. Most probably Henryk just didn’t want to see me after that debacle with Tina and her Dad. Or did he just didn’t want to see me. He’d seemed okay, up in the old building as I awaited the dean, but what did I really know about him, other than he appeared at the strangest of times, then vanished just as quickly?

Taking the offering from the microwave I headed back to my desk. My footsteps turned to plastic crunching as soon as I left the tea room. Yet this evening I hadn’t heard Melody as she walked along the plastic. I didn’t hear her until she stood beside me in the tea room. Which meant she can’t have walked down the hallway. Which meant she’d been coming from the front rooms, not the labs.

Why would she lie about that? Or did she? I couldn’t remember exactly what she’d said. Just about stuff to do – but none of her stuff, as far as I knew, was in the front offices. Like me, she wasn’t high enough on the pecking order. I shrugged as I sat down. Maybe she was just coming back to pick up her things.

I took a mouthful of food and closed my eyes. Simply delicious.

I don’t know how long I took to eat. Too long, probably. But I wasn’t going to degrade this meal but entering numbers into a computer as I ate, or file results, or make a list of what I still had to do. I didn’t even watch a movie, although I still had to finish Rebecca. I just wanted to simply eat. Maybe, if I asked nicely, Jim could teach me to cook like this. Even a tithe of like this would be great, considering the simplicity of my culinary skills. Then I could live on my houseboat, and cook, and let the aromas drift across the bay.


At that time when the night is ending but morning is yet to stir, I decided on a small walk to ease both the ache in my eyes and the cramp in my back. A walk also offered another chance to find the Grey Nurse. Manderley had long been reduced to ashes. Just as I pushed back my chair my pager buzzed, jittering across the desk and into my hand. I read the message, and grinned: Time for a java.

Kayl never wrote anything else.

It didn’t take long to reach the hospital. Although my limbs were tired, I jogged up two levels of stairs and opened the door. A dark corridor lay before me, lit only by dim footlights. Just for a change I’d entered the hospital via a back stairwell and not through the front door. I rarely came this way, for it meant having to walk past all the patients in their beds. I preferred not to be reminded of the sick people here.

At the far end of the corridor I could see the glow of the main desk, but as I walked the rooms to either side of me were dark, with at most a soft light on. Halfway down I passed an alcove, where through the window I saw the cupola light, against the coming now paling dawn. I then spotted Henryk, stretched out on a small settee. Barely breathing, I moved even more quietly, so my footsteps fell silently on the wooden floor. Old-fashioned volleys are perfect for nights.

Three beds had been parked near the nurses’ station. Such scenes were common in my own time of working in a hospital; doing rounds through the darkened wards I’d often came across patients bedded for safety near the main desk, their sheets as tangled as their minds.

A faint natter trickled out from the room behind the desk. It took but a moment to find Kayl doing the honours with the coffee machine, at home with a sea of women around him. As so often when working nights, the talk was of food, of being overweight, of failing diets, and of boys.

“Ah, Stephanie,” called Kayl, “so you got my page.”

“Of course, thanks. How could I refuse? Let me guess, corridor patrol in return for a coffee? A fair trade.”

Kayl stared at me for a moment as if searching for signs of today’s happenings. Then, for once silent, he simply turned back to the coffee making. “Julie here’s been bitching about how much weight she’s put on this week,” he finally offered.

“Thanks, Kayl,” came a voice from amongst the group. “You really know how to make a girl feel special.”

“Well, you were,” said Kayl.

“I always feel so bloated when I work nights,” I interrupted to no one in particular. “I suppose it’s all the junk I eat. I just wish I was a horse or cow so someone could stick a needle in my gut and get all this air out.”

“Our vet’s great with colic,” Julie said over the noise of the coffee machine. “Perhaps he could help. And when I was home last week one of the mares got a twisted spleen.”

“A twisted spleen?”

“Well, something like that. At first Dad thought it was colic, and started carrying on because treating it costs an absolute fortune, but when the vet came out he said something about the spleen being twisted, or bowel around the spleen or something.”

“Did they have to operate?”

“Thank goodness, no, I hate to think how Dad would’ve carried on about the cost. You’ll never guess what the vet did.” The girl waved to Kayl to turn off the machine so everyone could hear, then turned back to her waiting audience. “We walked Latte – the mare, that is – to the top of the paddock, then rolled her down the hill.”

“No way!” came the chorus.

“Absolutely. Apparently if you roll the horse the right way, the blockage untwists. Turn her one way and the horse gets better, the other way and she gets worse.”

“How the hell did you get your horse to lie down, let alone roll?”

“I thought that was the hard part, but then, once Latte started rolling, we couldn’t actually stop her. She kept on going down and down the hill, straight towards the vet’s four wheel-drive.”

“Oh my god!” we said as one, loving every minute.

“It was Mum who actually stopped her in time, but we had a few panicky moments. Silly of the vet to park his car there, though.”

“So, how’s the horse?” asked someone.

“Absolutely fine. A bit groggy when we stood her up, but after a few moments as right as rain.”

I turned at the sound of footsteps; I’d been too busy listening to Julie’s story to keep a watch-out. Fortunately, the only thing to emerge from the darkness was the burley shape of Henryk’s cousin, James.

“So this is where you all are,” he said. “Sorry to be a nuisance, but Aunty Lisa seems a bit restless. She’d groaning a lot.”

“Not a problem,” said one of the nurses. “I think she’s due something now anyway.”

“How about a coffee?” asked Kayl. “You could sit in here and have a bit of a break with us.”

“That would be lovely,” James said. “But I’ll take it down with me. I don’t like her being alone. Besides, I’d better get back to work soon.”

“I’m sorry she’s not well,” I said.

“Don’t think she’s going to make it home this time.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” I repeated, feeling particularly helpless.

“She hasn’t been well awhile but this past week, well, me and Henryk, we’ve made a bit of time to sit with her overnight when we’re working. Not that she knows who we are.”

I patted his arm.

“Mind you,” James continued, “I don’t think she knows who she is. I remember her as a right tyrant when I was little, but these last few years she’s been pottering around being sweet as pie to everyone. Then, a few months ago, she started to forget who we all are, but still seemed happy enough to see us. Now she’s had a big stoke. Still, I suppose it’s a good way to remember her.”

“I don’t believe,” I said slowly, “that you were ever little.”

James just grinned as Kayl handed him a coffee. “Thanks for this,” he said. “And, well, for looking after her. You’ve all been great.”

“Of course we have,” said Kayl. “It’s our job. And when your cousin of a cleaner wakes up, send him along for a coffee as well.”

James winked at me as I blushed, then turned and headed into the darkness of the corridor.

Kayl handed coffees out to the rest of us. Cradling my mug in my hands, I noticed a heart on top of the foam. “That’s pretty, Kayl, how did you do that?”

“What, the heart? Oh, I’ve been practicing,” he said with a lazy grin.

“I didn’t even notice,” said Julie. “Too busy talking.”

“Mine looks broken,” said someone else, and we all laughed.

“Why do you call your horse Latte?” I asked. “Her colour?”

“No, she’s a beautiful chestnut,” Julie answered. “It was my three year old who came up with the name. I’ve no idea where he got it from, but it sort of stuck”

“By the way, Steph,” said Kayl, “there’s a few specimens on the main desk for you.”

“Thanks.” I took a mouthful of coffee. “Wouldn’t you just love to roll some of the people here down a hill?” I asked, but no one answered for we all heard the sound of the lift. “Careful, someone’s coming,” I said. “Who’s the supervisor on tonight?”

“Oh shit, it’s Francis again,” said Kayl. “And we’d better get those patients back to their rooms. She hates that.”

Cups were quickly hidden behind notes or else found new homes in cupboards, and a diaspora of staff vanished in an effort to somehow look busy. I left the room to sit at the desk all by myself, doodling out a to-do list as I finished my coffee. I’d never perfected the Italian art of standing at a bar downing hot coffee in a few gulps, and besides, I had no act to put on for anyone. Francis wasn’t my supervisor, and I didn’t have to hide. The one benefit of my job: no answering to prowling supervisors.

I finished my coffee as the lift shot past to stop on a higher floor. The nurses were safe; maybe the Grey Nurse was looking after them. They’d only had time to push two of the three beds back to their rooms. The patient in the last bed chatted away to herself as I checked the specimens on the desk. Noticing one of the forms had a half-printed label, I turned to the patient notes stacked just behind me; it took just a moment to find the right one.

As I tiredly pushed some stray hair from my eyes I heard the lift open. I looked up to see the vastness of Sir Dom. His anger scorched the room. I shrank into the desk, desperate not to be seen. The man lurched out of the lift and headed down the corridor without looking my way. I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly gathered my things so as to make an expedient exit before the heavens collapsed. As I stood up Dom stormed straight towards me.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

Startled by his almost polite words I automatically stammered, “Not too bad. I’ve had worse nights.”

“Not you, dead-shit. My mother! How’s it going?”

I simply stared back at him, stunned into silence.

“Well?”

“Your mother? I...”

“Christ,” Dom yelled, “I come here to see my Mum and find her in the fucking corridor!” Dom’s words came at full throttle, jumbling over each other in increasing loudness. “Now you’re sitting here with her notes in front of you.”

“But I haven’t...” My pager went off as I answered, startling both of us. Automatically looking at the number, I reached for the phone. Dom was quicker; grabbing the handset he threw the phone over the counter to smash near my feet.

“And since I saw you this morning my book’s gone missing,” he said very softly, as if he wanted only me to hear. He came around to my side of the desk. “Where is it?” he suddenly yelled, kicking the cupboard-door beside me.

I jumped from my chair and backed slowly towards the wall, wishing somehow I could put the desk between the two of us. I’d never felt so totally alone.

“Just like your brother,” Dom continued, emphasising each point with a kick, “you’re now stealing from me!” Having reduced the cupboard door to a crumbled mess, he turned to me. His six-foot of sideways mass loomed over me as his hangman eyes bored into mine.

“You’re as useless as your fucking brother,” he yelled. “Now I want...”

A vice of a hand fell on his shoulder, cutting off his words. “No one speaks to Stephanie that way.” Henryk’s jagged voice was frighteningly soft.

Foolishly Dom brushed at the hand, only to find his arm pinned painfully to his back. “What the hell are you doing!” he yelled, but the words were chosen poorly. As Dom twisted Henryk grabbed the other arm, bringing both wrists up between Dom’s shoulder blades so that Sir Dom slowly crumbled towards the floor.

Dom looked up to find James had materialized in front of him. Somehow James had squeezed between Dom and myself, and, for once, Dom looked up to someone taller than him, and with a bulk that was muscle not flab. “Like Henryk said,” said James coldly, “no one speaks to Stephanie that way.”

“What the hell,” Dom shouted. “Do you know who I am! How dare you treat me like this!” With each word Dom’s voice wilted a little more, ending with the wail of a frightened boy. A very little boy.

Henryk’s cousin stretched to his full intimidating height. “Don’t cut the ice with us, mate,” he answered. He took a firm grip of Dom’s arm and nodded at Henryk, who finally let Dom’s wrists fall free.

Leaning towards me, Henryk gently touched my shoulder. “I’m sorry he scared you. I should’ve got here quicker. Are you alright?”

“Me? I, er, ...”

He leaned so close his beard tickled my ear. “Always wanted to be the Black Prince. Pity I don’t have a favour to wear,” he whispered, and with that mysterious phrase he turned and helped his cousin march Dom away.

I looked on in silence, a part of me regretting they hadn’t slipped handcuffs on the man. All other words and thoughts lay beyond my grasp.

For a long moment the place lay imprisoned by silence. Even the woman in her bed seemed shocked to silence. Then slowly shadows grew around me, and I found myself surrounded by the night staff. No one said a thing.

After a long moment, I picked the phone up from the floor. “Do you think I could keep this as a trophy?” I quivered, reverentially running a shaky hand over the shattered frame.

Like the air after a summer storm, the tension evaporated. Everyone began chattering at once.

“Prick had it coming for years.”

“Bullying us all this time.”

“Who the hell does he think he is?”

“I remember when he just started.”

“Not even good then.”

“Not even good in bed.”

A sudden pause, as everyone pretended they didn’t know who’d said that one. Belatedly, another security guard arrived, puffing.

“Where’s the problem?” he panted.

“I think you’re a bit late,” Julie said.

“Oh, I called you,” Kayl said. “Honestly, I was cowering in that room as that man bellowed away. I didn’t how else to help you, Steph.”

“What was he going on about?” someone finally asked.

“I have no idea,” I muttered. What had he meant, Dave stealing from him?

“Here Steph, take this.” Kayl put another coffee in my hand.

“Thanks, but I don’t think I could drink any more.”

“Trust me, he said, “medicinal.”

Looking up at his for once concerned gaze, I took a sip, and a warmth spread through my body.

“Like I said,” continued Kayl, crouching down beside me and putting an arm around my shoulders, “medicinal. We keep it supply for emergencies. Where Francis can’t find it.”

Like a flock of frightened starlings, the nurses didn’t stop talking. Their voices twittered over my head.

“So where do you think they’ve taken him?”

“Who cares?”

Cradling the broken phone, I burst into tears. Kayl put his arm around me and sweetly blamed the medicinal coffee.


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