A place to hide
Joseph had left the Margrave and found the nearest exit, now he was up at ground level making some calls. It was Cosmo he’d first thought of, but once he’d stopped swearing at Joseph for waking him, he told him that his girlfriend was away and he had two cousins staying over. He offered an airbed on the floor, but though three young guys would offer protection of sorts Joseph turned him down.
He needed somewhere safe, for an as yet unknown length of time and with no questions asked. He was walking down the street, so as not to draw attention to the entrance, when he found his way blocked by a huge eight wheeled crane reversing across the road. Liebherr 1070, he noted idly as he watched a couple of security guards guide the monster machine into a yard, and then he had a brainwave about who else he could ask. Quickly he dialled the number.
“Mike? It’s Joseph Singer”
“Hello mate, how are you? Long time no see. You’re catching worms this morning.”
“I know it’s early. Listen Mike, I need your help.”
“Don’t tell me, more parking favours?”
“I hear from Eric and Gus that you’ve been cadging a bit of free parking the last few days.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Don’t be silly, what are friends for? I hope she was worth it.”
“Don’t play the innocent with me Joe, I know you better than that. Gus told me you had a pretty girl with you, and Eric said you were a man on a mission.”
Nothing got past Mike, he wasn’t the head of one of the biggest security firms in the trade for nothing.
“Come on Joe, time is money, you know how it is,” Mike chuckled down the phone.
Joseph got straight to the point.
“The thing is Mike, she was worth it – is worth it – and she’s in trouble.”
“No problem,” he wasn’t laughing now because Joseph sounded deadly serious, “what do you need?”
“I need somewhere to take her, I don’t know how long for. Somewhere safe, where she’ll be comfortable.”
“I’m on it. Anything else?”
“High up maybe, and not near the river.”
“I’ll call you back,” and the phone went dead.
If there was one person who could help it was Mike Lunn. Five foot seven, shaven headed and virtually square, his meathead looks belied a kind heart and a quick mind. He and Joseph had set up their respective companies around the same time all those years ago, Joseph straight from college and Mike deciding to go straight. Their paths had started to cross, big construction projects tended to need security and scaffolding pretty much simultaneously, and they had become unlikely but firm friends. Each knew the other to be 100% honest and reliable, and that trust had bred a fierce loyalty in Mike which Joseph was counting on now.
Five minutes of pacing later and the phone vibrated. Joseph didn’t give it chance to ring.
“What have you got?”
“You need to give me till about four o’clock this afternoon, but I’ve got you a flat, a show flat in fact. Remember that block those Uzbek brothers were putting up in Bayswater – ten floors, twenty flats, all going to be four million plus?”
“Yes I remember, they ran out of money and then one of them ended up in the canal with a concrete necklace.”
“That’s it. Well the block’s still there, half finished, but with a fully furnished show flat on the top floor. No one goes there, ownership is all locked up in some mammoth court case and we’re on security detail.”
“Is it okay?”
“All good. I was just checking to see if there was power and stuff, I only have two guys on there and I haven’t been down in weeks. They said there’s electric and water, and amazingly the lift works too. I’ll take them off and put Col and Harry on – you know both of them, been with me since the beginning.”
Joseph breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you so much, I owe you one.”
Mike just laughed, and told Joseph where and when to meet him.
It was after six by this time and the streets were starting to get busier. He had to be discreet as he slipped back into the Riverways and returned to the Margrave. The old man looked troubled, he had been going over in his mind what Joseph had told him. The Sea Mer’s message may have said one lunar cycle but he was concerned that things had already started. If the water was changing as Nelson had sensed, then maybe they didn’t have that long.
Laura still slept, and as she couldn’t go to the flat until four o’clock, they let her go on sleeping. Joseph sat dozing fitfully in a chair and the Margrave read quietly. He had met with his council of Elders but other than getting the full translation from Arne, which confirmed that any changes already being seen in the waters were not a coincidence, they had not made any progress. They would meet again the next morning, after each had had time to think further.
Finally, Laura woke. She sat up gingerly, still wrapped in the warm blanket, and looked around. She remembered where she was, but exactly how she’d got there remained a blur. Joseph was leaning back against the wall with his eyes shut but the Margrave saw her and smiled.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Better.” She coughed and he handed her a cup of water which she drained.
“Hungry,” it was after two and she hadn’t eaten for more than a day, “starving in fact. I should go home.”
“You can’t.” It was Joseph, eyes open and face etched with concern.
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m fine now. Message delivered so I want to go home.”
“I’m sorry,” said the Margrave, “but Joseph is right, you cannot go home. You are in danger and we cannot let them take you again.”
“So do I have to stay down here then? What about work? And my landlady will be wondering where I am.”
“You cannot stay here either. Joseph has found somewhere safe for you to go.”
“He doesn’t know,” Joseph interrupted, “the fewer people that do the better. And forget about work.”
Laura didn’t have the strength to argue, but she was almost faint with hunger and asked if they could at least go and get something to eat first. Joseph looked at his watch, not sure that they could spare the time. Laura was going to try and stand up when she realised that under the blanket she was wearing only the remains of her torn shirt.
“I can’t go anywhere like this,” she pointed out.
Five minutes later Edgar and Cara appeared carrying a bundle of clothing, from which Laura was able to pick out a couple of garments that she thought she could bear to put on. She decided not to think about where they had come from, and was thankful that her jeans and sandals, though filthy, were still in one piece.
Once she felt decent in the better of the tops Laura stood up, or rather tried to – she immediately felt dizzy and sat down again with a bump.
“I really need to eat something,” she pleaded, “otherwise I’ll pass out completely.”
“Alright,” Joseph conceded, “let’s go and we’ll get something on the way.”
He had already been outside once to bring the van closer, to a nearby but rarely used entrance, one he hoped the Sea Mer would not be watching. He helped Laura through the tunnels and outside, and even after just that short walk she virtually collapsed into the passenger seat. He switched on the engine and put the van into gear, but they didn’t move. Laura could see his hands gripping the steering wheel, so tightly that his knuckles were white. He was steeling himself to speak, and finally, staring straight ahead rather than look at her, he asked the question that was eating away at him,
“Did they hurt you?”
Laura knew at once what he meant. Her clothes had been torn and she’d given no details of what had actually happened out there. She answered truthfully.
Joseph lessened his grip on the wheel and exhaled in relief before pulling out into the traffic. He drove to Bill and Jeannie’s cafe, now shut for the afternoon, and parking in an empty space opposite he ran across the road and rang the bell. After a couple of minutes a bleary eyed Jeannie came to the door. She was about to remind Joseph in no uncertain terms that she got up at four-thirty and he’d interrupted her siesta when she saw the look on his face. Laura, watching from the car, saw her briefly touch his cheek with her hand before she said something and opened the café door wide.
Jeannie leaned against the counter and took in the scene before her: this exhausted woman in dirty jeans and an old man’s sweater, eating the meal she’d hastily thrown together as Joseph watched over her. She caught his eye and he came and stood beside her, while Bill took up his customary position in the doorway, never quite out of his kitchen, but close enough to see and be seen.
“So this is her?”
Joseph nodded, his eyes not leaving Laura for a second. Jeannie shook her head and put her hand on his shoulder. She had a bad feeling, something had happened and he was clearly in deep, too deep.
Joseph reached up and took Jeannie’s hand in his, he was about to say something when Laura stopped eating and put down her cutlery with a clatter.
“Thank you very much,” she said without looking up. “Should we leave now?”
“Yes,” replied Joseph, dropping Jeannie’s hand to look at his watch. “Let’s go.”
He opened the door and then they were gone, leaving just the jangling door chimes and an empty plate behind them.
“Well,” said Jeannie, and as she knew he would Bill stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around his wife. She leaned into him thankfully.
“Jealous?” he teased.
“Not in a million years. Something’s going on there, and I don’t like it, I don’t like it at all.”
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