Authors: Fox Harper
"I got beaten up," he said slowly, "because some
your lot decided I knew something. They went
me, and Maric's heavies smelled blood in the
"But my lot were wrong? You're not a
in this case?"
For a moment I thought he would break. Find
balls or his spine, deliver on the promise in his
. We both stood and listened to the pigeons
the seagulls for a while. Then he turned away
I gave it up. We had the witnesses we needed.
I wasn't sure why I'd even pushed it this far. "All
," I said. "Goran Maric's in custody, but let's
his army roaming around on the loose,
examples of teenage kids and selling crack
school yards. I don't believe you,
Clyde, but you're not worth any more of my time."
I took a card out of my coat's inner pocket. "If by
chance you decide to grow a pair and have
crack at this bastard, call me. You'll be
protection." I dropped the card into the
of his rainbow-daubed palette. He didn't
to take it. When I reached the gallery doors
was standing just where I had found him,
, his undamaged profile picked out in
he ogre had said that if I allowed myself to
, I would damage muscles on the other side of
spine. I should keep using the aluminium stick
the weakness had passed. Since I'd left the
twenty floors up in a tower block, the
wasn't really an option, and I left the
foyer with my head high and as steady a
as I could manage. The girl on reception
out from behind her desk as soon as I was
the glass doors, and disappeared in the
of the restoration rooms. Rowan Clyde
't struck me as the girlfriend type, but you
My route home was a three-minute walk
the twilight zone. Rowan's gallery and my
lay on opposite sides of an abyss of
that had cracked the city apart in
1970s. If I looked behind me to the Langring
I couldn't, not unless I wanted to fall face
into the gutter
I would see
England, baroque civic architecture at its finest,
cupola and a frieze of Grecian ladies
beneath. Ahead of me was my own tower
, the only residential one in the city. It soared
through eighty metres of concrete and steel,
the tender night sky. Some called
Bauhaus, others Brutalist. For myself, I had found
exciting to move into a flat poised high above the
where I'd struggled in the dirt for so long. I'd
my first month's rent with my first police pay
, and the two things were bound tight to one
in my mind
an upward leap, a chance to
the world as the ravens saw it on Scafell Pike.
It had taken me a while to notice
it was so obvious
that my citadel was
on thin air. A four-lane road ran right beneath
. The block was lodged on vast concrete piers
protruded out over the entrance, blocking
and attracting drunks and deadbeats.
I'd moved in, I'd learned other things about it
planner and architect had ended up in prison for
-scale corruption in forcing development
through, that it would have been
years ago if not for the forest of radio
cellphone transmitters that had sprung up on its
, the highest point for miles around. I hadn't
. Its hollow base had struck me more as a
than a threat, and anyway I was scarcely
there. I'd used its forty flights of stairs as a
run. Sometimes I even climbed them now.
No matter how grim a mood I was in when I got
, by the time I'd dragged myself up to my own
door, I would be in so much pain that
else would drop away from me. Admin
, interviews, a life that revolved around
instead of guns and swift-footed
my mind would go blank on the lot, and often I
knock back my pills with a tumbler of scotch
hit my bed unconscious.
No chance of that today. I'd overdone it
chasing bloody Rowan Clyde, and
have to take the steel coffin of a lift, which
smelled of cat pee despite my conviction
no self-respecting cat would come near the
. I'd be lucky if I made it that far. I stumbled
the steps beneath the forbidding monster pier,
I wondered if this was it, if I'd dislodged the
and was about to collapse like overcooked
right here, numb from the waist down
I took another step and then another,
then a dozen more, and I hit the button for the
and nothing happened.
Nothing at all.
"Shit," I told the tight-closed doors in front of
, pressing my palms and my brow onto their
unyielding steel. "Fuck. Shit. Fuck."
I jerked my head up. One other person did
Mrs Dixon, my neighbour from the
floor, resplendent in blue rinse and floral
. Four flights of stairs could inconvenience
as badly as my forty, and I'd carried her
up a dozen times when the lift was out of
. I could have carried
"Is that thing not working again? It's a blessed
but such language, dear!"
"Yes. I didn't know you were there."
"Well, it'll be the end of me, and then I shall
them," she informed me cryptically. "Where
's a blame there's a claim, you know. I shall
to go to Elsie's for my tea."
"All right. Your purse is right on top of your
, Mrs D."
She peered into her Co-op grocery bag and
the purse further down. "So it is. You're a
She turned and waddled off. She expected the
to be opened for her, so I went and did it. I
her through, then sank down onto the top
beside one of the regular drunks, who saluted
kindly enough with a paper-bagged bottle.
I almost envied him. He, presumably, had
the end of his fall. Pathetically, I
Mrs Dixon and her tea at Elsie's. No sleet would
falling in Elsie's living room. I thought about
up and going back inside, but there was
This was a new low for me. Of course it
't rock bottom. Unlike my neighbour tramp, I
a phone in my pocket, friends who would
and help me.
Officer in distress...
Hodges would send out a car. Nevertheless, just
now, I was trapped on the steps of my own
, unable to go further or go home. I
my elbows on my knees, let my brow rest
my hands. I would get my head up, sort this
out, in just a minute. The sleet began a
-footed dance on the back of my neck.
I jumped so hard I made the tramp jump too.
Rowan Clyde was standing over me, the collar of
jacket turned up, his hands in his pockets. His
was longer than the fortnight-old surveillance
had shown, and the wind was blowing damp
of it over his brow. His eyes were a rich
brown, somehow catching warm gold lights
the bitter dusk. Half a dozen stupid ideas
to me, and one fell out of my mouth. "Did
Again, a lift of one dark eyebrow. A look that
plainer than words,
don't flatter yourself
"No. This is my route home." He took one step
and looked up at the sheer concrete cliff
us. I watched him, hope stirring in spite of
. Maybe he'd changed his mind about
me out. Maybe I'd have something decent
take back to Bill after all.
"I've got a mate who lives in there. He says
lift never works."
"It works sometimes."
"Not today, though."
"Er... no. Not today."
A silence fell, more awkward somehow than
ones that had punctuated my clumsy
in the gallery. The tramp cracked it
us, waving his bottle again to greet the new
. "Bonny lad," he declared, then looked
. "One half, anyway. Other half looks like
' mincemeat." He tipped his head back and
a cackle of delight at his own wit.
"Sorry," I said, calmly as I could. "You
't been introduced. This is the rat-arsed guy
lives on my steps, and I won't bother telling
your name because I tell him mine every time I
him, and it doesn't make any difference. Does
"Aye, our Vernon. That's right."
Rowan nodded. He didn't seem fazed by the
gag. He looked tougher in daylight than
had beneath the gallery's lamps, and as if he
have been called worse. He extended a hand
me. I took it on reflex, only realising then the
chill of my own. As soon as I was on my
, I let him go. I wasn't even sure why he'd
I needed his help.
"Were you on your way in?"
"Er, yeah. But..."
"Come on, then. This is turning to snow."
So it was. I put a pound coin into the tramp's
he seemed to expect it,
it was one less bit of shrapnel to lug up those
stairs. And of course he was nowhere near
reached the end of his fall, not on a night
this. He and I both could go infinitely further
. Rowan was holding the door for me. I got
him awkwardly, and we stood in the hallway's
shadows. It was a place where the wind
to moan even on a calm day. It was dank
grim. I'd never noticed. Who cared? It was
a railway platform or a bus depot, a means of
"Are you all right?"
Why wouldn't I be
, I wanted to
. But there I was, standing beached and lost
the worlds, arms folded over my chest to
back shivers. "I'm fine."
"I'll try the lift again." He pushed buttons,
for a moment to the unresponsive silence
the doors. "No. Sorry, nothing."