The next couple of hours passed by a slideshow of disconnected memories.
I remembered the police officers calling an ambulance for me. Two people – I think it was a man and a woman, although I couldn’t be absolutely certain – helped me to my feet and into a stretcher. From there, they rushed me into the back of the ambulance and began treating my injuries. They were speaking to each other in serious, though not panicked, voices so I assumed things weren’t bad enough to warrant critical care. Even if they had been, I found it impossible to muster a corresponding level of worry. I’d been hurt, I might be losing a lot of blood, but those concerns seemed distant.
I remembered bits and pieces of a hospital, an unknown amount of time later. Any recollection of my time in the ambulance was lost in a fog of confusion and disorientation. The people at the hospital treated me with a quick, professional grace and placed me in an otherwise empty room when they were finished. The room had no phone, no television, and no window. One of my arms was handcuffed to the bedside rail.
When I reached my free hand up to my ear, I found that my earbud was gone. Either it had fallen out at the estate or, more likely, they had located it during my treatment. Again, that thought would probably have troubled me in a clearer state of mind. As it was, I could only hope that Sarah had taken steps to ensure that the police wouldn’t be able to use the communications device to track her whereabouts.
At the same time, however, the only people who had the vaguest inkling of Sarah’s involvement were Hill, Asher, and myself. I certainly wasn’t going to tell on her, Asher would have disappeared into the wind as soon as he realized things were going sideways, and Hill…well, Hill was a wild card. He could tell the police that Sarah Ford had been involved in the incident, but he had no proof.
I remembered speaking to the police. More accurately, I remembered not speaking to the police. They had dozen of very salient questions to ask me. What was my name and where was I from; what was my business in London; why had I been at Hill’s estate, in the center of such a catastrophic series of events; and, most importantly, why had the Baron of Berkeley been caught with his hands wrapped around my throat?
They got nothing but a stony silence from me. Part of that came from long hours training myself to stonewall the police at every opportunity. The rest of my mute impersonation came from the lingering daze that I couldn’t quite seem to shake. The fact that both factors allowed me to frustrate the law was a happy coincidence.
There were other scenes I could recall, but none of them seemed very important at the time. Nurses and doctors came into the room, taking great care to stand out of arm’s reach. Police tried various tactics to draw some information out of me – good cop, bad cop, understanding cop – and received nothing they could use. On at least one occasion, someone asked if I wanted a lawyer and I told them no, in a firm voice. The last phase would only work if I was alone, if it was going to work at all. I knew that much for a certainty.
My first clear memory came later, when my internal clock told me that the sun should be setting outside of my windowless room. Even though I’d specifically given instructions for no legal representation, a man in a dark suit entered my hospital room.
I craned my neck so that I could examine the man. He wore expensive clothing, but nothing so pricy that a well-paid – by which I meant ‘corrupt’ – attorney would be unable to afford. His hair was slicked back with an unhealthy amount of grease and the slim smile he wore made my skin crawl.
He stepped into the room, turned, and closed the door behind him so that he stood with his back an inch or two away from the door’s surface.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked, when it became clear that the man wasn’t going to speak first.
“Legal representation,” he replied. His voice sounded as slimy as his expression looked.
“I didn’t want a lawyer.”
“As far as the officer outside of this room knows, you have changed your mind. But, please, do not think that your wishes have been countermanded: I am not here to represent you,” the man said. “I am Lord Fairfax’s representation.” He emphasized Hill’s title. That told me a lot about the man.
“I’m not fully versed on the law, all things considered,” I said, “but I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to be talking to me. Or is that only in civil suits?”
“That law only applies to barristers and only in the case of a trial.”
“Call me crazy, but I think that your boss is going to be spending a little bit of time in a courtroom.” I shifted my weight, trying to make my arm slightly more comfortable. The effort proved only moderately successful.
The man’s smile became even thinner. “It is my professional opinion that there will be no trial. Why would that happen, when no law has been broken?”
I raised an eyebrow and said nothing. The message was clear, without any further clarification. Hill was going to use whatever leverage he’d managed to acquire over the years to make this entire thing disappear. Personally, I wasn’t sure there was a rug big enough to sweep everything under, but Hill must have been confident if he’d sent his hireling to taunt me.
This time, the man broke the silence. “I am here merely to inform you that Lord Fairfax wishes you to understand the consequences of your actions.”
“Is that a threat?”
The man shook his head. “A quote. He has explained to me that he sought you as an employee and you chose to…take another option. He merely wishes me to express his dissatisfaction with that choice. Although I am certain he will want to speak with you about it, whenever you find yourself in better health.”
And that was a threat. Not only was Hill going to use his power to make his own charges go away, he was going to do the same for me. It wasn’t difficult to imagine why he might do that sort of thing: he wanted to take his revenge on me, personally. He couldn’t do that if I was in police custody. Therefore, the easiest thing to do would be to make it seem like nothing had happened at his estate. I would be freed, the police would stop watching me, and he would be able to snatch me off of the street at his leisure.
If he intended to walk away from his crimes unstained, it stood to reason that he’d want to deal with me in his own way. I wondered idly how long it would take me to leave the country and decided, after only a few seconds of consideration, that I probably couldn’t skip town fast enough. If I’d been Hill, and I had enough juice to arrange this level of legerdemain, it wouldn’t be out of the question to have someone waiting at the airport for just such an escape attempt.
I had no intention of leaving, though. “Is that all?” I asked the man in the dark suit.
“From Lord Fairfax, yes. But I wish to add a personal comment, from me.”
I waited a few seconds. “And that would be?”
It wouldn’t be appropriate to refer to what the man did next as a smile, but he did show me his teeth in an approximation of that expression. “Good luck,” he said. Then, he turned, opened the door, and left without allowing me an opportunity for a witty repartee.
When he was gone, I settled my weight back onto my pillow and allowed myself a little smile of my own. I pressed the call button and, less than a minute later, a nurse appeared in the doorway.
He took in the sight of me, relaxing casually in the hospital bed, before he spoke. “Is everything alright?”
“Considering the extent of my injuries,” I began, “is there any reason for me to stay here?”
The doctor pursed his lips. “You suffered a slight concussion and your shoulder was dislocated. The bullet wound in your thigh missed any of the major arteries or veins and passed completely through. A night or two under supervision would – “
I cut him off. “So is that a yes or a no?”
He sighed. “No, there is no medical reason for me to stay here. The police, however, wish to speak with you and I am under strict orders not to release you until they have had that opportunity.”
I would’ve clapped my hands, had I been able to do so. “That works out wonderfully, then. I’m ready to talk to them. No reason to stay in bed any longer than I have to.”
The doctor gave me long-suffering look. I couldn’t imagine that he’d had many patients eager to leave the hospital after a gunshot wound, but the expression on his face made me think it was a more common occurrence than I thought. “I will go get them immediately, then,” he said and started to leave.
“Hold on there,” I said before he could leave. He turned back around. “I don’t want to talk to them here.”
“Is there another room you would prefer?”
I tried to suppress my smile and only managed to wrestle it down to a tiny grin. “Of course. I’d like to talk to them in Scotland Yard, if possible.”
It must have been late in the evening by the time everyone got on the same page, regarding my strange request. The medical staff insisted that I should stay under their care for at least another night. The police, who must have sensed the possibility of a trick, only managed to get their way by repeatedly asking if another night was a medical necessity. Ultimately, I was allowed into the back of another ambulance and transported to Scotland Yard with a stern notice to demand to see a doctor, should anything go wrong with any of my injuries.
A police officer rode with me in the back of the ambulance, presumably to make sure that I wasn’t going to throw myself from the back of a moving car. He wasn’t carrying a gun – that wasn’t the way of things in England, thank God – but the nightstick at his side would have served as sufficient discouragement, even if the asphalt outside had been a more acceptable landing surface. He tried to wheedle any tidbit of information out of me and I met each question with my most banal smile, followed by an unyielding refusal to speak with anyone before I was safely inside Police Headquarters.
He eventually gave up and we rode the rest of the way in silence. That silence continued, even after he helped me out of the ambulance and into the building. Using a pair of unfamiliar crutches, the two of us made our way through the lobby and onto an elevator that terminated its ride before too long and another officer joined with the first to help me into an interrogation room.
Seated inside was the dark-skinned detective I’d spoken with on my first sojourn into the mouth of the beast. He was drinking from a Styrofoam cup of coffee and looked a little worse for wear.
“You again,” he said, by way of greeting.
“I was hoping we’d get the chance to chat again,” the detective said. “There’s a lot of mystery floating around, regarding you. Couple of blokes in the station got bets on whether or not I could catch you.”
“If this counts, then I think you stand to make some money, then.”
He shook his head. “Not so much. I bet you’d be on the next plane out of here after our last talk.” He shrugged.
“You know,” I replied, “I almost like you. Obviously, we’re not ever going to be the best of friends, but there’s just something about you.”
He chuckled and finished the remainder of his coffee. “I get that a lot, actually. Heard you wanted to talk to someone about this whole mess out at the Fairfax estate?”
I tilted my head. “From what I understand, Lord Fairfax doesn’t have an estate out there. Isn’t it in someone else’s name?”
“Sure,” the detective replied, “but we aren’t blind to the possibility of tax shelters. The cops do know some things. Anyway, you left the hospital against doctor’s orders to be here. What’s on your mind?”
“Would you believe me if I said I was just tired of the hospital’s décor?”
“Not really, no.”
I hadn’t been lying. The dark-skinned man did seem particularly likeable and astute. If we weren’t on opposite sides of the law, maybe we could’ve…well, not been friends, but not enemies.
I couldn’t trust him, though. Hill’s influence surely ran deep within Scotland Yard and anyone could be one of his plants. “Well, you’re right,” I said. “And you’re wrong. I needed to stretch my legs.”
The dark-skinned man rolled his eyes and I got a sense of exhaustion from him, rather than irritation or anger. “I’m going to get another coffee,” he said. “You want one?”
“With sugar?” I asked hopefully. “It’s been kind of a long day.”
“Sure. I’ll make it a double.” He stood up and left the room.
I wasn’t handcuffed to anything, which I appreciated. My wrists were still burning where the metal bracelets had been fastened. I grit my teeth and used the crutches to help me to my feet to stretch. The ride in the ambulance hadn’t been good for my circulation and my extremities were beginning to feel sore. My thigh – the one where I’d been shot – hurt even worse, despite the low level pain medication I’d received in the hospital.
There was a camera in the upper corner of the room. I wasn’t in the same interrogation room, but I’d noticed a similar one upstairs.
“Sarah,” I said into the empty air, “I really wish you could hear me right now.”
Of course, there wasn’t any response. My phone was off and probably in some sort of shielded room by now. I wasn’t wearing my earbud. The miniature camera I’d worn into Hill’s estate was gone, as well, lost at some point in the scuffle before the police showed up.
Still, talking to her felt natural. “I know you weren’t really a big fan of this…well, you weren’t a fan of the part I told you about,” I continued, “but I don’t really consider this lying. I imagine our friend has made it perfectly clear why I had to keep you in the dark.”
The camera did not reply.
“I’m just hoping that, when all this is over, that you’ll give me a chance to explain any, uh…details that might have gotten lost in translation.”
The red light on the camera – the one that let me know I was being recorded – switched off. Behind me, the door opened with a soft click and closed again with the same noise.
I let out a long, slow breath and centered myself. “Hello, Asher,” I said.
Something clicked behind me and I smelt the sharp smell of fire, followed by the familiar scent of a lit cigarette. “Hello, Devlin,” Asher said back.