Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In the Company of Strangers Part 11

Warnings: Still slash, no discipline. Just for you then Rusty ;)


Everyone told me at great length about how I ought to have pneumonia. I didn't. My father, bending the prescription laws since half the town was flooded and the other half gleefully spectating, got antibiotics from the hospital pharmacy and Kerry spent the night on the sofa, but I was cold and shaken, nothing more.

For the two days that all the roads were shut and the police were imploring the general public not to add to the cars stranded all over town, Hugh and Lucifer shared the bed with me and we watched the local news pictures on TV. Ryan's was one of two deaths reported, and very little detail was released. More interesting was the news that the police had seized quantities of a new leisure drug from a nightclub as it was evacuated on the night of the flood. Several arrests had been made.

All sense of urgency had left me with the knowledge of Ryan's death. Judging from Hugh's extreme gentleness, he thought I was in shock, as I ought to have been from the physical ordeal of the flood, and the demise of a man he knew I'd admired and cared about. He probably put my claims about Ryan down to the ravings of hypothermia: he said nothing further about them. Neither my car nor my chair had been recovered yet, and Dad and Hugh appeared less than keen to pursue it. I had a spare chair at my parents' house, but no one ever seemed to remember to bring it over.

Rainbows rang on the third day. Hugh took the call but I got the gist of it from the living room and went into the kitchen. He hesitated, but surrendered the handset to me. Rainbow's story was plaintive: the St Giles office answering machine was on, they couldn't reach Jenny and social services were struggling to re home flood refugees. They had Sam, and he was insisting he had to speak to one of us, immediately. Hugh put his back to the fridge and folded his arms, listening in while I rashly promised to come over at once. Or at least as soon as I could, I amended, thinking of my car.

"Still planning to swim?" Hugh said dryly when I put the phone down.

I shrugged at him from the floor. "Can I bribe you to drive?"

"What if I said no?"

"I'd call a taxi."

He shook his head at me, but got his car keys out.

The streets were more or less clear around the outside of town, although there were plenty of flooded fields on either side of the roads. Cars were abandoned all over the place, and the roads were plastered with mud and debris.

"This is what you get for building on flood plains." Hugh said grimly when we passed the turn off to his workshop and estate. The car park was in sight from the road, and deeply under water. "This town's been flooding for hundreds of years, and they think a flood gate here and a housing estate here and it'll all be fine."

That was so typical of him. Having met his family, I could see where many of the things I knew about him had come from. He'd grown up in a country area, far closer to the realities of land, and of having to respect the weather. Where I'd grown up, you put the fire on and drew the curtains and forgot about it. Which of us was thick enough to try driving a car through a three foot flood?

Rainbows carpark was sloshing a bit but wasn't exactly flooded. Hugh got out of the car and accompanied me with a determination that suggested it wasn't worth asking him to stay in the car. I found it hard enough walking on callipers anyway, never mind walking on wet ground; I wasn't sorry to have him in reach.

Sam looked as though he'd been hit by the shock I'd bypassed. He was white and his eyes were huge. The Rainbows worker who spoke to me, told me he'd refused to talk about the night of the flood to them. She added that they were shocked and saddened by Ryan's death: he'd given a great deal of time and energy to kids both in and out of Rainbows for several years.

"I thought you were dead." Sam greeted me in the battered back room he was waiting in.

"So did I." Hugh said mildly behind me. I found the nearest table and sat on it.

"What happened to you? I drove right through the square."

"I saw you." Sam curled up on the windowsill and hugged his knees. "I saw your car go out of control and crash- I thought you were in it."

"Where were you?"

"Ryan was in the square." Sam said unsteadily. Hugh looked across at me and his eyebrows rose.

"I know. I saw him." I leaned forward, trying to see Sam's face. "Was he following you?"

"Yeah. I saw him when I got into the square, I went up and hid, you know the fire escape up the back of the library? He went on towards the Chronicle offices. He'd dumped the car-"

"What car?" Hugh interrupted. Sam looked at him.

"I saw him with the car. I saw him take it out of the square when he saw the water. He wouldn't have got it up to speed."

"Speed to do what?"

"To hit me." Sam said as if Hugh was being dense. "He'd need space to get up to fifty or sixty miles an hour."

"You and Lucy saw him run someone down." I said grimly. "Mel?"

"Craig." Sam shuddered at the thought. "Luce wanted to go back to Rivo's, she was looking for Craig to warn him everyone was asking questions about the Elite and to get rid of what he had. Ryan hit him at the top of the crossroads. There was no one else around, we just heard this screeching and this Cavalier shot out of nowhere. It hit him head on. Threw him off the road." Sam flinched at the memory. "It was Ryan. We saw him get out of the car- he went and sat with Craig, he sat there and held his hand."

"Craig was taken into hospital." I said sharply. "I saw him at three am and he was still alive."

"Ryan must have waited before he dumped the car."

Waited long enough to know Craig was past helping. I glanced at Hugh and read his mind in his dark eyes. If Ryan had run down Craig, the chances were-

"Why didn't you say anything?" Hugh asked Sam. "If you saw him-"

"Lucy was scared stiff because she knew about this Elite. She didn't want the police searching the house and getting her into trouble with the others, and she said if Ryan could do that to Craig, he could do it to us. She told everyone about Mel being a warning to Craig and put the whole thing onto the drugs. We got rid of the Elite, she only had a few capsules, and we didn't go back to the club." Sam looked at me, calmer now he had it off his chest. "Are you going to tell the police?"

"I don't know." I said eventually. "Would you mind if I did?"

He shrugged. I braced myself on the table and on one crutch while I checked my feet were in contact with the floor and in a position to take weight.

"Did you see Ryan after he left the square?"

"I saw Hamish." Sam looked at me, darting eyes like Lucifer's. "That was all."

"I met Ryan," Hugh said in the car park, "Several times. He was worse than you are about these reprobates, he moved heaven and earth for them. I can't believe-"

"Craig had turned down every chance he was given." I leaned on the car roof and swallowed as I remembered Ryan in the doorway of the office, "He said to me, Craig had had his last chance, there was nothing else we could do. Mel was the same."

It's immoral giving those funds to her.

I'd said that to him: I hoped to God it wasn't me who gave him the idea.

"He was the one who was out on the streets at night, he knew the kids who were ringing in as emergencies when all our places were full and Craig was time wasting. Mel was time wasting."

"What about Lucy?" Hugh paused, key in the lock. "What about Steve?"

I swallowed. "He was another one. Mark said that Steve was an accident- the police proved that. I just assumed, because it was in the same time frame and because it was hit and run, he had to be another victim. He might have been. Lucy-"

"Do you think Ryan knew she and Sam saw him?"

This was a nightmare. I clutched the sides of the car and lowered myself into the seat.

"Ryan couldn't kill in cold blood."

"Joss, you're telling me he ran Craig McDonnell down."

"He put Craig and Mel down."

Kindly and clinically. A car at a speed he knew would kill. Every victim cared for in this horrible, twisted way, to protect a project I knew he put his heart and soul into. No lover, no pet, no life outside St Giles: Ryan had given every emotion he had to the clients he worked with. Lucy, dying in a car with a blanket over her. Mel and Craig in hospital with him sitting beside them, helping them die when he was sure he couldn't help them to do anything better.

"Stop at the office." I said to Hugh.

He followed me in: the first time he'd seen the inside of the St Giles office. Amongst the various articles taped to the chaos of the memo board, he found the small photo of himself, oil to the elbows, hair on end, leaning on his MG. I dug through the log book, looking for Jenny's neat handwriting, Ryan's slanting scrawl. Eventually I turned the book towards Hugh. "There. Two days before she died."

Hugh crouched beside me and peered at the book. It was the record we kept of every emergency call. Lucy had rung in and spoken to Jenny, looking for a place to go.

"She must have wanted out of that household." Hugh said soberly.

"Ryan was worried they'd make life hard for her after the house was searched." I searched through the filing cabinet, pulling out file after file. Not this year's, not last year's, but the year before I joined the project. The days when Ryan had built the project himself out of nothing, out of his own time and against the will of the town council. The file was four years old and right at the back of the cabinet. Lucy Jameson. I flicked it open and searched it. The data was no surprise. Three placements, found and then abandoned. Even four years ago, Ryan recorded contact with drugs groups, although she didn't seem to be a user herself. She fitted his criteria. She'd had numerous chances, she'd had varied opportunities, support, time and money. Hugh perched on the arm of my chair and read over my shoulder. Eventually I felt his hand on my neck, cool and tentative.

"What are you going to do with that?"

"I don't know." I admitted.

"You've got to tell the police."

"I need to think about it."

"Joss they need to know, you can't sit on information like this."

"Just a few days."

He sighed, an exasperated sound. "Allright, I won't nag. But you could be charged with obstruction, and rightly so."

I hunched my shoulders, shutting him out for a moment.

Ryan's writing, his notes and memos, the animal calendar on the wall, the photos of numerous clients, cluttered this office. His presence was strong here and it was more than I could bear.

Dad was parked on the driveway and to my relief, my spare wheelchair was parked on the doorstep.

"I'd forgotten what you looked like standing up." He greeted me.

"Don't nag." I begged.

"I don't nag. I don't have to nag, you can get cantankerous very nicely on your own with out any help from me." Dad followed us inside, blowing on his hands. "The weather doesn't get any better, does it? Been out to see the floods?"

"I had to check on a client. We saw plenty of fields still under water but the roads weren't too bad."

Someone knocked on the door. Hugh dropped his coat over the back of my chair and went to answer it.

"The garden's flooded." Dad said gloomily. "Half the fish have made a break for freedom towards the patio, and your mother's car drowned in the garage. I was going to ask Hugh to have a look-"

I followed his gaze around.

Mark Adair. Hugh followed him into the room, hands in his pockets, face expressionless.

Mark rolled his eyes at me and winced at the sight of my father.

"Hi. I just thought I'd drop by and see how you were doing."

"I'm fine." I said lightly. "Sit down. Have a drink."

"I'm on duty." Mark moved out of Hugh's way and hovered, hands behind his back.

"I've – uh- spoken to Miss Karall. We have reason to believe that the entire haul of Elite was taken at the nightclub on Thursday night. We made a lot of arrests and there's been an admission of threats made to Craig McDonnell, but no actual harm. There's no link to Melanie Keen's death or Lucy Jameson's as yet."

"What's this to do with you?" My father asked me suspiciously.

"It's complicated." I told him. "Sam's willing to talk to you, Mark. He's at Rainbows."

"Wrexham? Right, thanks."

There was an awkward silence. Mark pulled a face at me and excused himself. Hugh saw him out with exquisite courtesy.

"What's all this with the police?" My father said darkly. "Is this to do with these hit and run deaths in the papers?"

"They were all St Giles kids." I headed for the kitchen cupboards, suddenly and urgently needing alcohol. My father's voice rose behind me.

"What on earth are you involved in now?"

"Believe me, he's handling it." Hugh's voice said calmly.

All I could find was a bottle of wine, which had been at the back of the cupboard for months. I hunted for a bottle opener and went into battle with the cork.

"Is he fit to be doing this?" my father was bullying Hugh in the living room. "What was he doing out in the middle of that flood in the first place? What are the police doing here?"

"Adair's looking into these hit and run deaths, that's all." Hugh could make a hurricane seem like a mild breeze on a summer afternoon. "He's a friend of Joss's-"

"What the devil was he doing trying to drive through a flood anyway? Was he following one of these so-called clients of his?"

"One of them rang him-"

"What were you doing letting him go? Letting him go on his own for God's sake-"

Oh Lord. I buried myself in the wine, without the energy to go and shout.

"Roger, I don't have anything to do with his clients, they terrify me. I can't handle them. Besides, there are regulations about strangers getting involved." Hugh said placidly.

"All I can do is fix cars."

"Dear God." I could hear Dad pacing. I knew the tone; he was working himself up to the full rant. "This scares me to death."

"What does?"

"This whole situation. You and him. It's ridiculous. If his shunt was blocked, would you know?"

"No." Hugh said frankly. "I'd hope Joss would."

"Have you any idea how vulnerable he is? He's twenty three, he couldn't care less about his blood pressure or his temperature control or anything else, and I know exactly what risks he's putting himself through-"

"He's very level headed about it all, he doesn't take risks."

"He damn near drowned himself!"

I poured another glass of wine and wondered how quickly I could get myself drunk.

"I see little tots in clinic all the time, most of them with more movement than Joss had, and the parents are going through the same marathon." Dad was ranting on to Hugh, "You teach them to roll, you teach them to sit, you teach them to balance, you play with them for hours every day so they experience movement and enjoy it instead of being terrified of it, you strap them into leg gaiters, knee splints, standing frames, abduction boards, you force them into surgery-"

"I know," Hugh was saying with incredible patience, "I know,"

"You don't know. I made him go through with three separate operations to straighten out his spine, and we nearly lost him during the second one- I've seen him in hospital beds hating me so much he won't speak to me. At least when they're little they accept a lot as every day life. It's when they're fourteen and they want to watch EastEnders and they've got homework to do and you've got to get them to do half an hour's physio, THAT's when you know what it's like to have a child like this! And then they turn twenty and decide they're indestructible-"

"I know how young he is. I won't let him get into trouble."

"He nearly died on that bank." My father said fiercely. "Do you know how easily he could have died?"

I ought to go and rescue Hugh. I choked slightly on the wine and Lucifer paused from wolfing back cat biscuits to glower at me. I clicked to him. He ignored me.

"What am I afraid of?" my father was saying, quite within my earshot, "I'm afraid of you and him breaking up because I can't bear to think of what it'll do to him, I'm afraid of him getting depressed or too tired to cope. I worry all the time about his physical safety. I worry that you don't know what to look for or what to do if he needs help, that you won't understand how tired he gets-"

"That makes sense to me." Hugh said gently. I laughed. He was too good to be true. Would Mark devote himself to soothing my parents' nervous tics? No, I thought not. Mark would probably rant right back, if he was interested at all. No, I lived with my sweet, responsible, politically correct Hugh, just as if Dad had advertised for him.

Continue on to Part 12 of In the Company of Strangers

Copyright Ranger 2010

No comments:

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.

Do you want to read the FCR Books
and Short Stories on your E-Reader?
Well, lucky for you, e-book files can be found in
both the Yahoo Group and the Discussion Forum.