Together we are Stronger

by AmyAmy

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© Copyright 2018 - AmyAmy - Used by permission. All rights are retained by the author. This work may not be reproduced for profit or without this attribution.

Storycodes: Solo-F; MF+; police; raid; laboratory; discovery; attack; shoot; drugs; dispense; arousal; crime; hospital; recovery; emb; escape; cons/nc; X

Story continued from Part 2

Chapter 3: Who You Are When I’m Not There
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden

Maeve sat by herself in the empty meeting room. The others had cleared out, and her last slide was still illuminating the giant video screen integrated into the wall. It made no sense. How could the firearms guys be so vague about the ero-drug situation? It seemed like the news was full of little else. How could they ignore it? But perhaps there was not so much news, perhaps it was simply a case of search algorithms showing her what she wanted to see.

Not everyone cared about these things as much as she did. They hadn’t seen the cases. Genna Longcroft, eighteen years old. A substance with the street-name ‘hotslut’, the name alone was enough to make her shudder. Just the idea that sixth-form kids were watching that kind of video was unsettling in itself, even if it had led to her rescue, it still hadn’t saved her life.

She should have done more to save Genna. Her suicide was preventable. The thing Maeve couldn’t answer was exactly what she should have done differently.

One pervert, working alone, had done that to Genna and two other girls. The other two had used more of the drug, over a period of time. Their brains were like styrofoam. Reduced to zombies, they didn’t even have the self-awareness to understand what had been done to them. Maeve hadn’t had to inform the parents of those girls, who’d been swept up in a routine vice response. The one who had that job was one of those old-school vice guys, Dave Brooke. He radiated a kind of weariness. Had seen too much.

She’d gone to see Brooke after rescuing Genna and he’d told her the story of the other girls. How he’d picked them up, figured them for the usual ero-junkie-whores, but of course, he hadn’t told their parents that. Had made up the best story he could. When she told him about Genna, he repeated his story to her again, and again. How he’d picked them up. What the parents said. What he’d told them in response.

After that, she ended up drinking with him in a pub that people from the division never went to. He repeated that story over and over for the rest of the night. She’d heard it at least a dozen times, so many that she could repeat it almost word perfect. It wasn’t until he was good and drunk that he told her what he saw later. He went back to the parents, weeks later, to follow up. He hadn’t needed to. He’d done it anyway. One girl, Courtney, they had her at home, kept her like a baby. She couldn’t feed herself or go to the bathroom without help. She lived in a daze, muttering vaguely to herself and acting like a child, or an idealized version of a child. Nineteen years old, dressed in zip-up pyjamas, being fed microwaved frozen peas by her mum.

The other parents said their daughter had run off again. Brooke hadn’t believed them, but what could he do? Maeve had no answer for him. He suspected they’d dumped her on the street somewhere, or maybe even got somebody to take her away. Wherever she was, she hadn’t shown up in any more vice sweeps.

That was the work of one man. But the people she was tracking now were a bigger problem. They were making a lot of product, and it was going somewhere, and they had parties going on, and other things. The money involved had to be staggering.

The night after she went drinking with Brooke, Ridley called her and told her about the new task force.

She unplugged her laptop and screen went black.

She closed up the laptop. It was old, battered, looked like it came from the previous decade, and it probably did.

“It is what it is,” she said, out loud.

She’d have to go back and get a final sign-off from Ridley before they left. That would be awkward. It wasn’t him though, he was always so reasonable. It was her. She needed to stop being such a perv over the rubber business.

Damned Ridley, probably, she’d never been anything to him more than a slightly younger, slightly better looking version of Patty, his ex. Of course, he’d never mentioned Patty, but Maeve wasn’t a detective for nothing, and she wasn’t stupid, at least, not in that way.

She’d often noticed how he avoided Patty, even now. He never spoke to her personally. Always sent somebody else. That was Ridley’s flaw, he was a bit of a coward when it came to tense personal conversations.

* * * * *

Maeve spoke into her radio headset. “Are you done in there?”

Grant holstered his gun and gestured the all clear from the top of the stairs. “Looks like nobody here Inspector.”

“I’m coming up.” Maeve closed her radio channel, checked her body armour, shifted her gas-mask into place, and clumped up to the sub-landing. Constable Shepley remained behind on the lower-landing, silent, intent on his phone.

Inside the flat was a mess, floor thick with garbage, ingredient bottles jammed together on every surface, the ceiling blackened from cooking flames. Large plastic tubs were scattered around, their insides stained with chemical residue, others, with lids, were piled to the ceiling.

The lights flickered. Maeve froze, wary of bumping into something nasty. The floor was covered in an unsettling mixture of drug-making paraphernalia and the crusted residue of an orgy. It was the sort of place where an infected needle might stab through your boot.

The lights flickered again, then went out. It was nearly dark, the windows covered over with newspaper and images cut from porn magazines.

Grant gave the LED light-bar a thump and it came back on. Maeve guessed it was dodgy batteries. Mains power to the flat had been cut months ago.

“Nobody here Sergeant,” Grant said, his tone all business now he was out of the office.

Maeve replied through her mask. The sound was somewhat muffled. Grant pantomimed not being able to hear her, as if she were the one with trouble hearing, which made no sense. Also, she was certain he’d understood her perfectly, despite the mask.

“You lot need to get masks with mikes in,” he said, but he’d taken his mask off already.

Maeve pulled her mask down. “This is exactly like the lab I found last week,” she said. “Same people, same habits.” She made a disgusted noise. “Same filth.”

The light-bar swayed back and forth, setting wild shadows dancing across the room.

She moved her foot away from a pair of discarded panties, crusted with secretions, yet not completely dry. Somebody had tipped off the people here, and recently.

She gave a bored sigh. Since Ridley had made her bring firearms in, she’d been on edge, preparing herself for a confrontation with the drug-cooks, expecting the shooting to start, and then a pursuit, helicopter tracking, drones, the whole performance. This deserted lab, just like the one before, was an anticlimax, a leaden disappointment.

An icy needle of guilt chilled her heart. Ridley had said no hotheads. Was there something wrong with her? She knew perfectly well that the task force was only getting started. Meaningful results would be months away. Disappointment at not grabbing any of the people behind the lab was fine, but her reasons could be better. She should be relieved that she wouldn’t be shot at, that nobody would be endangered, even if it was that macho gun squad cock James. Non-events were good for the safety record.

They’d shut down another illicit lab, and there was probably some useful evidence here, but it was still a missed opportunity.

A loud clattering. Grant raised his gun and turned towards the noise. Maeve ducked behind the table.

Sergeant James, stepped out from behind a bead curtain. “Easy. Easy,” he said to Grant, gesturing for him to lower his gun.

“Sorry Sarge,” said Grant, pointing his gun well away from James’ direction.

“Forensics are going to have fun with this lot.” James gestured towards a sub-machine-gun, casually abandoned amongst the bottles on the table-top.

Maeve stood back up, trying not to look sheepish. “Right up your street?” Maeve said, looking towards the gun.

“Investigation? No. That’s your lot. But you’ll want to ask where that came from. Toys like that don’t pop out of thin air. They must have left in quite a hurry to abandon that.”

“The computer match was right, no question it’s the same gang,” Maeve said. “What we need now is a lead on some money. There could be something here, a phone, sticky-notes with passwords, anything.”

“Good luck with that,” James said. “Nothing back there. Best lead you’ve got is that gun.”

In front of James, Grant lifted the lid on plastic bin of pills, raising a cloud of drug-dust. Motes sparkled in the air with all the luster of blue asbestos. “What does this shit do, anyway?”

“Don’t touch that,” Maeve said sharply. “Careful.”

He snatched his hand back. “What? You worried about a print?”

“No. Dust in the air. What were you doing when I gave that talk an hour ago? Listening to bloody Coldplay? That stuff goes through skin. Get a dose and you’ll have a stiffy that won’t go down for the next three days. Put your gloves on.”

“Forgot them. Doesn’t sound so bad anyway.” Grant laughed, reaching back towards it.

“Except you’d never get it up again after that. Not without more of that stuff, anyway.”

Grant edged away from bin, steadied the swinging light bar, tilted it towards Maeve. “Shit. Did I breathe it in?”

“You’ll know real soon.” She pulled a pair of disposable nitrile gloves from her thigh pocket and threw them on to the table in front of Grant. He stowed his gun, picked up one of the gloves.

She was tempted to ask him if he was getting an erection, then thought better of it. Her face felt hot. Had she caught a bit of the dust that Grant had raised? She turned away from the light, away from Grant and the dust, put her hand on her mask. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a figure, silhouetted in the doorway to her side.

Shepley? No. Not him. It looked wrong.

She yelled, “Look out!”

Grant span to face the door. “Shit! Thought I cleared-”

Something punched Maeve in the chest. Three hard pushes. Three sharp cracks, so loud that after them the only sound was the ringing in her ears. Then the pain.

She stepped back to save her balance. Her heel squelched in something soft, that felt suspiciously like a used condom, still wet. Slipped. The awful sensation of falling backwards with no way to stop herself.

Falling backwards. Like one of those awful trust exercises where your lousy partner lets you fall and laughs. She reached out for something to save her. Her hands were empty.

It was over in an instant, but it lasted for eternity, like when her mother had admitted she had cancer. There was nothing she could do to stop it. All her strength, all her training, all her efforts, all her diligence, it was no use at all. She’d taken for granted the things that she’d relied on for support, and now she was in free-fall. Everything she’d built her world on was momentarily gone. Her only hope was that there was someone, or something there to catch her, to break her fall.

The back of her head cracked against something hard. Her vision flashed white. A shock of pain turned her limbs numb.

Then darkness.

* * * * *

Patrice took the old bottle out of her rucksack and set it on the bench. It was thick with dust, out of place on her perfectly clean worktop. She sat on the telescopic barstool, and stared at the cracks of darkness beyond the blinds. Was he watching her through those cracks? Checking up on her?

The whole division had gone crazy today after the shooting of the Craine woman. Apparently, she was in hospital, not dead, at least not yet. Patrice had expected to find out more, but after the news hit, nobody came near her counter. She’d had to stay there, frantic to know if the murder attempt had succeeded or not, dreading either outcome.

He had told her to look on the Internet to find somebody to kill Maeve Craine, and had demanded success. He wouldn’t be happy if she wasn’t dead, would be furious if she wasn’t hurt badly enough to take her out of action for a while. He was rarely happy anyway.

She still didn’t know what state Craine was in, hadn’t been able to find out, not even from the news, which had been oddly silent on the topic. It was if they were making a special point of not reporting on it.

She’d had to use her own money to pay for the hit, had to lie to the bank she needed a new car to get it. She was substantially out of pocket. He wouldn’t repay her. She was just something he’d use up until there was nothing left to use. She’d realized that years ago, but there was no way out. If they checked her accounts, the payments would look suspicious, but why would they check? She had no motive to kill D.I. Craine. No motive anyone else knew of.

It was funny really, him asking her to arrange Maeve’s death, that same red-head bitch, with her legs up to her armpits, her magazine-cover face, and her funny accent, that had stolen her love from her, and destroyed her future. A few years ago, if anyone had asked her the person she’d most like to kill, her answer would have been Maeve Craine. But three years of being systematically broken down by a sadistic blackmailer made the wish to harm Maeve seem like a distant memory, a pleasant sun-warmed-dream from a halcyon past.

She ought to be confidant that nobody but her and Ridley knew about that, not even Maeve. Ridley would never admit to the connection, so there was no chance she’d been investigated. But if they did, she was screwed. Or maybe it wasn’t that simple? Either way, the possibility of an investigation hung over her, another oppressive threat in her life, which was composed entirely of oppressive threats, humiliations and regrets.

She found the bottle that he’d sent her, the one that she was supposed to pour the liquid into. It looked too small. Never mind, he had given the orders, she simply had to obey. She took a pair of disposable rubber gloves from the cupboard under the sink and put them on, pulling them into place with a pair of satisfying snaps.

She took the lid off the new bottle and set it aside. It would have been ideal if she had a funnel for this. Wait. She did have one. She rummaged through the drawer full of cake decorating tools and found the small clear-plastic funnel. She dropped it into the top of the new bottle. Perfect.

The lid on the old bottle wouldn’t move. Probably, whatever was in there had dried into a glue over the years and sealed the lid in place. Her gloved fingers couldn’t get a grip on it. She tried a towel, but that didn’t grip either. She daren’t damage the lid by using tools.

She ran the top of the bottle under hot water, but that only made it more slippery. She dried it again, but it wouldn’t shift. There was nothing for it but to try without gloves. She stripped off her right-hand glove and tried the top one way, then another.

Perhaps the hot water had worked after all, because the top started to turn with a quiet grinding noise, and a few fragments of dark powder were released from the threads as she unscrewed it. The sweat on her palm melted them into brown stains.

Cradling the bottle like a baby, she held the new bottle with her gloved hand and began to pour. The liquid was thick and oily,  and like oil, it poured in dribbles and spurts. It was a good thing she’d found the funnel, because it would have gone all over the place otherwise.

A loud ring from her phone startled her. She tensed, almost jumped, but fear of spilling the liquid was stronger. There was something about it that sent chills down her spine, even without the warnings not to spill it or get it on her skin. Her fear of it trumped even the shock of the phone ringing, or the certainty that it was him ringing to check on her.

She put the bottle down. It was almost empty. Her hands were shaking, and a chill had settled over her body. It was a familiar sensation. Conversations with him never brought good news or praise, those were things from somebody else’s life. She steeled herself to be berated and beaten down with some fresh punishment, and reached for her phone.

“You are slow to pick up,” said the computer voice.

“I was doing the task you requested of me. I’m part way through. Is that alright?”

“Good. When you are done, I want you to deliver the sample.”

“I’ll do it as soon as I have the destination.” She gripped the edge of the worktop, knuckles turning white. He hadn’t mentioned the killing. She had expected him to begin with it. Was that coming next?

Instead, he reeled off the address. She had to jot it down quickly. The sticky-note on top of the pad was full of nervous scribbles. She licked her fingers and peeled it off, making a clear space to write.

He rang off immediately. No mention of Maeve. She breathed a long sigh of relief, but her teeth were still chattering.

She checked the small bottle. There was probably room left to fit the remainder in there. But it was chancy, it might not fit. Besides, he’d made her pay for the attack on Maeve, and wasn’t this stuff supposed to be incredibly valuable? He wouldn’t know for sure how much there was. If she kept the remainder it would never be missed. She could sell it later. Probably best to wait a few months, but eventually it might repay the expenses he’d inflicted on her.

She screwed the lid back onto the old bottle. She’d deal with it later. No. She was doing this all wrong…

If she was going to take a risk, deviate from his orders in any way at all, she might as well do it for a good reason. If they didn’t know how much was in the bottle, they couldn’t know how concentrated it was either.

She pulled the funnel out of the new bottle, drips of the oily liquid plopped onto her worktop. She put the funnel into the old bottle and poured most of it back. She left half an inch in the new container and topped it up with water from the filter jug in her fridge.

Distracted by the burning in her belly, she poured in too much water. Never mind. Some of the liquid seeped out as she screwed the lid on. She could run it under the tap to clean it. It was so diluted, it couldn’t possibly be dangerous. She’d been warned about getting it on her skin, but that was the fully-concentrated version.

She stopped, half-way to the sink and slid her still wet hand under the waistband of her skirt and tried to scratch away the incredible nagging need that had started there. The chill that had been dogging her was gone. Her body was burning. Her clothes rubbed and scratched infuriatingly.

She put the container on the draining board and peeled off her remaining glove before starting to remove her clothes. The skirt dropped around her ankles. She began to undo her blouse. It was only partially unbuttoned when she decided it would be quicker to pull it over her head. There was a ripping sound from her armpits. Never mind. Another button popped off, and she was free of the bothersome, restrictive thing. Her bra and panties joined the skirt on the floor.

Even naked, the heat was unbearable. She grabbed her nipples, one in each hand, pinching and twisting. Oh, sweet relief. She had never realized they could be so erogenous. She twisted harder and the pleasure increased. What had come over her? If only she had three hands. She found her clit and gave it the same treatment as her nipples. At the first touch she could feel it was going to be good, but when she dug her nails in, it was like a mini-orgasm. Only better.

This had happened because she’d licked her fingers. She stared at the spilled droplets on the worktop. They were calling to her. How much better would it be if she licked up those drops? She bent over the worktop and licked up the first drop. There was a taste of soap, and some bitter chemical, but both those tastes were overwhelmed by the sensation of the liquid on her tongue, spreading through her mouth like a gulp of hot-bonnet chili-sauce.

He had sent her all kinds of horrible toys, dildos, vibrators, clamps, plugs, pinwheels, even an electro-wand. He must never have imagined that one day she might enjoy them. She climbed the stairs, salivating at the thought of it, one hand still working her clit, the other on her nipple. This was going to be so much fun.


* * * * *

Keating glanced across at the large LED clock. One of the four-inch tall digits was flickering strangely. It was cheap rubbish he’d bought at the market, so hardly surprising it hadn’t lasted six-months.

He looked back at the pill-machine. It was automatic. Once he’d set it up, it would run by itself. It was configured so that every thousand pills it would stop so he could change the clear plastic tub the finished pills went into.

The boss had told him that a woman would be along with the sample he had to test. But she was supposed to have arrived hours ago. It was becoming obvious that she wasn’t going to show. Lucky for her. He’d been planning to inject her with a little obedience and order her strip, then chain and gag herself before crawling into the cramped dog-cage in the corner and lock herself in. It was always funny telling them to do it, and watching them eagerly comply. Every time, he searched for a sign that some part of them was resisting, or understood what was happening, but he’d never seen a trace. It was as if they couldn’t think of anything more wonderful than to do whatever he told them. That was the magic of obedience, and the addiction. Once you’d used it on somebody, it was annoying to deal with people that weren’t so keen to shut the fuck up and do as they were told.

A moan came from the woman in the other cage. The bars on that one were much heavier, and her chains more substantial. It payed to be careful with the cows. Whatever coursed through their veins made them oblivious to pain, and strong as gorillas. A cow could tear her own arms from their sockets if she had the leverage to do it. Then she’d bleed out in seconds and you’d have one dead cow. A mess like that… He wasn’t a guy who made messes, or let them happen, and he certainly didn’t plan on cleaning any up.

There was nothing for it, he had to contact the boss and let him know his dumb-cunt courier hadn’t arrived. If she’d done a runner with his package, the bastard would be in foul temper for weeks. He was bad enough at the best of times. If he really was a man, with that computer voice, you never be sure. It would make sense if it was a female, come to think of it, bitches were always full of mood swings.

He took a moment to check the cow’s tubing before he made the call. There were no leaks and her blood was running smoothly into the machine, returning just as smoothly. This one was making pink, and it seemed like she felt the effects of it. Bitch looked like she was having the time of her life, from the expression on her brain-dead face. The pink had permeated her completely, even her skin had changed color. Her eyes were blind, the irises the same color as the rest of them, or perhaps they’d simply rolled back into her head. There was no way he was touching her to find out, not without his gloves on.

He paused a little longer, checking the fluid in her drip, and finally the imperceptible trickle of pink fluid into the capture reservoir. She was producing well. He’d been banking on another cow to make up for the inventory he’d lost earlier today. Apparently, she wasn’t going to arrive. All that was headed his way were more problems, and the seed in the fridge wasn’t making any money there.

He couldn’t put it off any longer. He pulled out the disposable phone and launched the VPN.

* * * * *

Ridley waited at the doors to the ward, waiting to be buzzed in. His hands were clammy as he pushed them into the pockets of his suit trousers, then removing them again because they were filled by his keys and phone. Familiar objects, in this unfamiliar place. Hospital visits were a thing best avoided. What state would Maeve be in? He’d been told she was conscious, and able to accept visitors, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t been in danger. The nurse had been eager to inform him how the head injury could have proved fatal if she hadn’t been treated promptly with the latest techniques. But, as he knew of old, there could always be complications.

It was his fault she was here. Perhaps, if he hadn’t made her take the firearms officers with her, he’d be at her funeral instead. Or perhaps, they’d be celebrating some promising arrests? It was impossible to know if he’d made things better or worse, whether he should punish or congratulate himself. Thinking about it was exhausting.

There was a click from the door lock, followed by a crackling voice through the speaker by his ear. “For Maeve Craine? To the right, third door, 7F.”

He thanked the voice, but the speaker was probably already dead.

As he turned down the corridor, there was no trouble spotting the room, as there was a uniformed constable sitting outside it. The constable was making a great show of doing nothing, staring into space. No doubt he had just stuffed his phone into his pocked, alerted by the sound of the door buzzer. He jumped to his feet as Ridley approached, positioning himself in front of the door. He was in his shirt-sleeves. It would be too warm for his other equipment in the stuffy hospital corridor, but he’d be vulnerable if there was another attempt at Maeve’s life. Unarmed, how much use was he, really?

Ridley pulled out his ID and held it up for the constable to inspect.

“You’re expected sir. Go on in.” He stepped aside, allowing access to the door.

Ridley let himself in. The room was new, white, with doors of pale varnished wood. The bed was a complicated affair, more a machine than a bed, and around it were other machines, monitors and devices, though most were not turned on.

Amongst so much clutter and distraction, it took a while for his gaze to settle on her, but somewhere in that imposing machine of a bed, lay Maeve. The covers were pushed down to her waist, revealing a hospital gown, and she lifted her head very slightly to stare at him. Several tubes and wires disappeared inside her clothes, or were fixed to her head.

Much as he had feared, her eyes were sunk in dark pits, and her skin pale and gray.

He seated himself in the chair by the bed. “How are you feeling?”

She lay back and closed her eyes. “I’m not sure. I might be dreaming. What are you doing here?”

“I’m worried about your injury, naturally?”

“Is that all?” She relaxed, slumped back into the bed, as if about to fall asleep, or drift off into some drugged have.

He waited, and after a time, her eyes opened, she regarded him blearily, blinking in slow motion. The whites of her eyes were dark red from the bruising. He stopped himself from looking away, only at the last moment.

“Are you still here? What’s the real reason? I don’t think a busy chief inspector comes to make social calls.”

There it was, that icy note. She would never forgive him. Not for this, and not for the past. If she was well enough for that, she might be fine after all, but she didn’t look it. He would never be able to make things right, but best thing was to endure his punishment as stoically as possible. That was the most he could do to regain his honor.

“I’m sorry. I know we are not friends, but can’t I be concerned, even for a subordinate? I don’t think it’s… unethical? Do you?”

“You’re a pain in the neck sir.”

“You’re right of course. I’ve earned that.”

She groaned, and moved to pull herself upright.

“It’s fine, stay where you are.”

“No. I can sit up. It’s not that bad.” She groaned and reached for a wired remote with brightly colored buttons on it.

“It looks bad.” He put the remote into her hand.

“You’re overreacting sir.” She tried to smile, but it was almost a grimace. “Just looks more than it is.”

“I have to disagree. Any more severe and that blow to the head would have put you in a coma. You were bleeding internally. A few years ago it would have needed emergency surgery.” He gestured for her to stay put. “You were lucky.”

Ignoring him, she pressed the remote for the bed. The motor whirred, and it began to move, lifting her head and shoulders. “So people keep telling me. But if I was actually lucky, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Maybe so. Is there anything you can tell me about the attack?”

“Not… No. I don’t remember it. Not clearly.” She winced, as if something had pained her. Something almost certainly had.

Ridley stepped back. It had been a mistake to come. He should have waited at least another day. They’d said her headaches should improve rapidly, but some people were not so fortunate. For some, they could persist for weeks, or months. Hopefully there would be no such complications for Maeve. From what they’d told him, it was too early to tell.

“Don’t go wandering off. There are guards watching you, brought in from outside. We can’t be sure that it wasn’t initiated by somebody in the division.”

With the bed adjusted, Maeve pulled herself into a sitting position and rubbed at her eyes. One hand had a sensor bandaged onto her finger, the other looked thin, fragile, ghostly. She had aged. It wasn’t just the injury. She was no longer the fresh young woman with glowing skin she’d been five years ago. No. It was his natural pessimism. She was still young. She’d be fine. It was only a concussion.

“You mean you’re sure that it was an inside job? I know I am.”

Ridley knew better than to answer that. “There will be an investigation.”

“It won’t find anything though will it? Or do you think it will dig up some conveniently placed dirt on me? Is that why you’re here? To break it to me gently?”

“No,” he said. He picked up an apple, put it back down again. Who had brought the fruit? “That is unlikely. It would attract too much attention, and ethics are looking at this. If they find smoke, they won’t stop searching after locating the first fire. Any deception that turns them inwards will need to be flawless. To quiet them down, the problem needs to come from outside, beyond their purview.”

“But you already know who’s to blame. Don’t you?”

“No, though I have a very short list.” That was no understatement. There were really only two names on it, but it was better that she didn’t know them yet. There was no saying how careless strong drugs might make her, and he foresaw several days of strong drugs in her future. If not weeks.

“You don’t have to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying.”

“You’re always lying. Admit it. As expected, somebody warned the drug builders, left us a surprise instead. You used me as bait to lure them out.”

He tapped his temple with his finger twice.

She gave him a pointed look, hissing breath between her teeth like bottled fury, uncorked. At last she spoke “You knew when you let me go out, you bastard. You knew this might happen. Why didn’t you do something?”

“I thought I had, and I thought you were well aware of what was likely to happen.”

“You still could have done something useful. ”

“I thought you were a grown up Maeve.”

She stabbed at the bed remote again, reversing the previous adjustment. “One of us has to be, but that doesn’t make me bullet proof, sir.”

“I’m going to leave now, but you should know, somebody sold your assailant depleted uranium rounds. Russian military issue. He knew his target, and if it wasn’t for that fancy vest you were wearing, he’d have succeeded. So, I don’t know… You seem pretty bullet proof to me. But get well soon. You might have to repeat the trick before you’re fit for duty again.”

“Lucky me. Just a bump on the head. Lucky that these painkillers are incredible. I can’t even feel the cracked ribs.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I should be out there, hunting them. It wouldn’t have happened if you’d let me keep it within the task force.”

“You’re saying it’s my fault? What if you were wrong? What if it was someone inside the task force? You might be dead now.”

Maeve closed her eyes again. Her lips were white, bloodless. “It’s a good thing I probably won’t remember this conversation.”

Ridley closed the door and sighed. The constable on guard glanced at him, smiled nervously.

“Keep a close eye on her, alright? I wouldn’t be surprised if another well armed assassin shows up here, so don’t get complacent. This is real.”

The constable swallowed, his Adam’s apple moving visibly. 

* * * * *

Patrice woke with a start. Agony suffused every part of her body, as if pain were the only sensation left in the world. The mattress was damp with sweat and blood.

It would have been a luxury to be unable to remember what she’d done, but she remembered with chilling clarity. The sweat and blood were hers. She had hurt herself, and she’d loved every moment of it. The joy of it was gone now, and the loss of that happiness was a wound worse than the physical ones, a gaping hole like the loss of a precious person.

Patty cursed, and spat, and cursed again, and again, and again. While she had been sleeping, who could say what had happened to Craine? And what would he say? She hadn’t delivered his precious sample. It would not be long before he found out, and then there would be… Consequences, as he called them.

The only thing she could do was run. If she stayed, the things he’d do to her for screwing up this badly… She’d be begging for death, and it would be a long time before her wishes were granted. There would be consequences for her family too, he’d probably start with her sister. Jess. Poor Jess. Her life just beginning in earnest, hoping to head off to university. Ruined because of her stupid sister. Stupid, stupid Patrice. She smashed her fists against her head, Jess deserved better than her, a lot better. She yelled, a dull, wordless exclamation, that carried on and on as she pounded herself over and over, until her head was ringing her firsts aching.

Gasping for breath, she found all that had changed was that her head hurt worse.

Patrice rubbed away the worst of the tears. Because of her weakness, her stupidity, her sister was doomed. At best, he would make Jessica into one of his workers, like he’d done to her. She’d suffer through the blackmail, the humiliations, the sex videos, the brutality, being pimped out to fuck strangers like a prostitute, to courier drugs, to do his dirty-work. She’d suffer, until finally she cracked, or he threw her away. That was how he used people, and how he got his pleasure.

Jess was probably doomed already. What could she do to make it worse? But there were things she could do to make it better. Levers, warnings. Possibly… He’d done everything in his power to beat her down, to break her, terrify her, to be certain she’d never rebel against him. She’d seen it, known what he was doing. Perhaps he hadn’t succeeded completely? Maybe she could still fight back?

She pulled herself out of bed. She couldn’t stand properly, her back wouldn’t flex, and her legs didn’t want to bend. The pain shooting through her belly every time she tensed a muscle was crippling, even against the background-level agony that filled her body like a cruel liquid poured into an empty vessel.

Hunched, clutching her gut, she limped over to the wardrobe and pulled out the bag she’d packed months ago, in case of just such an emergency. She pulled on clean clothes, ignoring the filth and crusted dried blood covering her body. There was no time to shower now. A loose top, a long skirt, thick pull-up stockings, and low-heeled shoes. Even dressing was a reminder of him. He’d planned it that way, making her get rid of all her tights, leggings, trousers and jeans, demanding all her underwear purchases be approved, and forbidding any shoes with heels less than three-inches.

Whenever she dressed, even now, she felt his fingers round her throat, controlling her.

Clinging to the banister with both hands, she struggled downstairs with the heavy bag. There were painkillers in her handbag. Strong ones with co-codamol. She took two and gulped them back with water. She took her phone off the charger and dialed Jess.

The phone rang. One ring. Then two. She slumped down onto the bottom step, using it as a seat.

“Pick up. Pick up,” she whispered aloud to herself.

The phone rang, another four rings. No answer.

Patrice gave a single sob that wracked her chest as if it would burst.

Her phone rang. Jess, calling her back.

Patrice answered. “Hello, Jess, it’s me, Paddy.”

Jessica’s voice was bright, cheery, blissfully unaware. “I know it’s you, silly. What’s up? You sound funny.”

“Jess. I’ve fucked up. Fucked up everything. My life. Yours. There’s a man, he’s been blackmailing me. Now I’ve done something to make him really angry, he’ll come for you to get revenge.”

“Whoah, whoah, back up Paddy. You’re not kidding are you?”

“He deals sex drugs. He has men working for him, and he can make you do what he wants. You have to run. Don’t tell anyone where you go. Just vanish. I’m sorry. So, so sorry. He wants you because of me. Because of me…” Another great sob welled up out of her chest, and she couldn’t speak.

“Paddy. It’s not you. It’s him. It’s not your fault.”

“You have to run Jess. He’s good at finding people. He has drones, researchers, watchers, people that do whatever he needs. He can track your phone.”

“Alright. How will I find you?”

“Don’t. Don’t try and find me. If I call you ever again, if I ask to meet. Don’t come. It won’t be me asking. He can make you obey with drugs.”

There was a sob from Jess on the other end of the line.

“I’m so sorry. I wrecked your life. Goodbye. I have to go. Goodbye Jess.”

Another sob. “Bye Paddy. Bye.”

Patrice pressed the hang-up button. The tears washed freely down her face, stinging and cleansing. She dropped the phone on the stairs, took her other phone from her handbag and dropped that too.

story continued in part 4

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