211. Head Start

“Biadet,” I said, “great to see you. We could use your help if you’re not too busy. You look taller, have you grown?” I walked towards her like she was just the person I’d been waiting for.

We were in trouble. She was going to drag us off to one of Gullen’s black sites where his dogs would flash their metal teeth at us. But there was little point running away from Biadet, her ability to move through the shadows being ninja level, so I thought I’d try to bamboozle her. Colin-Fu versus Biadet’s dark arts.

“I’m trying to avert a full-scale war and I need the girl with the big nose to help me.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder in Claire’s general direction. She was across the street but her nose was a lot closer, so it was obvious who I meant.

Biadet smiled, which brought me up short. It was not a jolly smile. She was not the sort to be easily bamboozled.

“The Administrator wants to see you. He isn’t very happy about how you handled the last mission he sent you on. Not very happy at all.” She smiled again, this one full of genuine amusement. “He was sure you’d come back here, to find your friends. I didn’t think you’d be so stupid. But that’s because I like you.”

Which would normally be a good thing. If you like someone, you don’t want to see them get hurt. Biadet was not what you would call a normal girl, though.

“If you like me, at least give us a chance. He’s got the whole city looking for me, not really fair if you join in.”

Biadet slowly nodded, thinking it over. “I’ll give you a head start. One hour. Then I’m coming for you.” She grinned and her eyes lit up. Even in the shadowy alleyway, they shone bright green like a cat’s. I took an involuntary step back. Then she was gone.

“Friend of yours?” said Jenny.

“Yes,” I said. “Why? Jealous?”

“No,” said Jenny. “Slightly scared.”

“What about Claire ?” said Flossie, bring us back to the matter in hand. 

“Right, right.” We had one hour and then Biadet would kick the doors in. She wouldn’t even need to do that, probably slip through the keyhole somehow. 

“Keezy, can you go over there and speak to Claire. Make yourself look like a customer, the type who can only get sex if they pay for it.” 

Keezy nodded and his face began to warp and shift. Jenny grabbed my arm, then quickly let go when she realised, but stayed close to me. Keezy got shorter, his hair darkened and his stance turned into a slouch. 

“He looks a bit like yo’,” said Flossie. 

He didn’t look a bit like me, he looked exactly like me. Fucking troll.

“Great. Brilliant idea, Keezy. If I could offer a little constructive criticism... First, I don’t have to pay for sex, I have her.” I pointed at Jenny. “She already fell for me once, and she’s already falling for me again. Look at her, she’s all over me.”

Jenny, who had sidled right up against me as Keezy’s face had melted and reformed, sprang away. Too late, babe.

“And second, there’s no point taking my face, I’m the one they’re all looking for, aren’t I?”

“Ah,” said Keezy as me, “that is true. It was just the first idea that came to mind.” He changed again, tweaking his/my features until he looked a bit like my cousin Kevin. 

“Can you make the hair a bit longer at the back? And greasier?” I adjusted the look until Kevin was standing in front of me. I never liked Kevin. “Good. Okay, go over there and tell her we’re here but she’s being watched. Hopefully, she’ll be able to think of a way to come to us, instead.”

We returned to the end of the alley, ready to send Keezy over the road, just a regular punter, nothing for the men watching to get suspicious about. It was quite a good plan, I thought. It made sense, had a high chance of success and didn’t involve me. Three out of three.

Claire had other ideas. She was talking to a large man. She was being very nice to him, maybe even flirting. Money changed hands and they went inside. Perhaps waiting on tables wasn’t the only thing she did around here.

“Ooh,” said Flossie, agitated. “We have to stop her. She don’t need to do that. We’re here now. Oh, Claire.”

If I’d stopped to think about it, I probably would have realised it wasn’t like she was in any danger. Presumably, she’d been working here a while and this wasn’t her first customer. Maybe Maurice had turned her out and was now a pimp daddy in a big fedora and fur-trimmed coat, the way the 70s said all black men were.

But there wasn’t any time to think things over. The urge to rush over there and slap the cock out of her mouth was strangely compulsive. 

I created a ball of light but kept it as dim as possible, sent it floating up and then darting over the roof of the building we were hiding beside, closer to where the watchers were. Once it was far enough from our positions. I split it up and started popping them in bursts of colour. The concentration required made my head hurt. I’d done similar stuff but not on this scale. It was a real New Year’s Eve production number. 

People began pointing and shouting as the light show filled the sky. My ability may not have been very useful as an offensive weapon, but it came in quite handy for CC.

“Let’s go.” I exited the alley walking backwards, pointing up like everyone else. The street was quite busy now as people came out of buildings to see what was going on. 

The others followed my lead, copying my attempt to merge with the gathering crowd. The confusion turned to delight as it became apparent there was no danger, just pretty colours whizzing about. 

The street wasn’t very wide and it didn’t take long to get to the cat house. Enough people were milling about that I felt there was a good chance we hadn’t been spotted. My light display was bright enough to make you want to half close your eyes and we were just figures in the crowd. 

Maybe it was a stupidly risky thing to do, but once I decided I needed to act, everything that followed happened without thought. I didn’t even bother to explain my plan to the others, I just expected them to follow. Which they did. Even Jenny.

We slipped into the nearly empty bar area of the brothel. 

“You could have run away then,” I said to Jenny.

She looked a bit confused, either at the question or perhaps at herself. 

“I wouldn’t do that to Mr Puffy.”

Maybe she took her cat-based oaths that seriously, maybe not.

With everyone outside watching the last of the lights fade away, the only ones in the room with us were some of the more exhausted working girls, and the man behind the bar. He was the one who had been talking to Claire, which at least meant he wasn’t her client. Unless she was under the bar where we couldn’t see her.

I made my way through the empty tables and sticky floors (sticky because of spilled drinks, I hoped) and said, “The skinny girl with the big nose, how much?” Not having had any reason to purchase sexual favours before, I assumed this was how you got yourself a whore in the sex trade.

The man, who was fat but the kind who can clearly handle himself, looked at me for a second, then at the others as they crowded around me. “She’s not available. One of my other girls can serve you much better. They’re all very broadminded.”

I didn’t like the way he said that while looking directly at me.

“Where is she?” said Flossie, angrily slapping her hand on the bar. “She’s our friend.”

He pursed his lips and sized Flossie up through narrowed eyes. I think he was considering offering her a job. “She’s upstairs,” he said. “Third door on the left. She isn’t alone.”

Flossie went haring up the stairs forcing the rest of us to run after her. I would have maybe given it a few minutes so Claire could finish up, give the guy value for money. If not quality, at least quantity. Flossie was already at the door by the time I reached the top of the stairs. She shoved it open without knocking and then covered her mouth.

I got there a second later. Claire was kneeling beside a bed looking over her shoulder at the doorway, her eyes large with shock. In the bed was Maurice. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. Claire had one of his hands in hers. They were glowing.

She let got and rushed towards us as we entered the room. “You found them. I knew you’d come back.” She threw her arms around Jenny who stood frozen, not knowing how to react. It didn’t look like seeing Claire had jogged any memories. Claire moved to embrace Flossie, both of them crying and laughing. I decided to move before I was caught up in any unpleasantness.

Maurice was lying so still I couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. He didn’t look hurt. There were no cuts or bruises as far as I could see. “What did you do to him?” I said.

“I didn’t do anything,” said Claire crossly. “Jenny, tell him.”

Jenny shrugged apologetically. Claire looked at her, confused, and then to me.

“She’s lost her memories, has no idea who we are, can’t believe I’m her boyfriend.”

“Oh. Well, I can see it would be hard to believe that. It would be hard for anyone to believe it.”

Didn’t take her long to get back in the swing of things. 

“Can you give us a quick recap?” I said. “We’re on a bit of a clock. Gullen’s soldiers will be goose-stepping in here any minute.”

Claire wiped the tears from her eyes. “We landed in a forest near here, the three of us.”

“Yo’ haven’t seen Dudley?” asked Flossie.

“No. He isn’t with you?”

“Speed it up, we don’t have time,” I said, which got me dark looks. I ignored them and spun my finger. Once you let women start gabbing, forget it. Tangent City. Being strung up by Gullen was vastly superior to listening to female chit-chat.

“We landed hard. The trees broke our fall, but Maurice got hurt really bad. He was unconscious and bleeding. I healed him but he wouldn’t wake up. Jenny said she could feel you were out there so I said I’d wait with Maurice while she went to find you. That was a week ago.

“I stayed looking after him in the forest for the first couple of days, but we had no food or water. I had to leave him and sneak into the city. I was desperate. I had to hide him under twigs and leaves and hope wild animals wouldn’t find him. I was scared out of my mind. I had no idea if Jenny would find you, or be able to get back here.”

I gave her the signal to wrap it up. There was probably a wonderful tale of a battle against the odds in there somewhere, but we could get the unabridged version narrated by Stephen Fry later. She gave me a grimace but cut to the short version.

“I got a job in the only place that would have me, used my first day’s wages to pay some people to come get him, and took a room here. I’ve been healing him every day, but he won’t wake up. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Maybe he’s gone,” I said. “You’ve been keeping his body going, but his mind…”

“Oh, no, no,” Claire said. “I know he’s still in there. I know it. Sometimes I can see what he’s thinking.” She smiled and the tears poured down her face. “He’s thinking about me. He’s always thinking about me.” She collapsed into shuddering sobs as Flossie and Jenny embraced her. 

It’s a strange thing about women. They’re the weaker sex and prone to shallow behaviour. They obsess over shoes and hairstyles and shiny rocks to wear on chains. And they’ll burst into tears if a puppy stubs its toe. But when things go bad and you have to choose between giving up and getting on with it, they’re the ones who buckle down and do whatever it takes. Not like men, with a shiny uniform and book deal. Quietly, riding the bus to their second job while reading a shitty woman’s magazine about who you were in a previous life and how much thinner you were back then.

Claire was alone and had barely the means to look after herself, let alone an invalid. She didn’t run away and she didn’t fall down in a heap. She struggled like a bitch. The good kind. The kind you want standing over you when you’ve fallen.

It’s biological I guess. We’d have all been wiped out long ago if our survival relied on things going well. 

“Sorry, kids, a sabretooth got your Dad and they’re going to repossess our cave. Unfortunately, I’m just a woman, so we’re screwed. Let’s all lie down and wait for the sweet relief of death.”

Sometimes I wonder if that kind of woman is being slowly phased out. The female ideal seems to be entirely different. Every time they form a girl group, they have the cute one, the sexy one, the sporty one, the one who can actually sing, the one with a tattoo, the one who’s shagging the manager… they never have the one you can rely on. The one who’ll drag you to safety. The one who’ll work her fingers to the bone to feed you while you’re in a coma. I don’t suppose she’d sell many downloads, up on stage shaking her ass.

But they’re still around. Like Claire. Not that I’d tell her any of that. She already had a big nose, she didn’t need a big head.

“Ahhh,” said Flossie, pointing at Maurice. “Ah think he moved.” 

She wasn’t pointing at his head, though, she was pointing at his middle. And there was indeed movement, as Maurice pitched a tent.

“Oh, yeah…” said Claire with an embarrassed frown. “That happens sometimes.”

“Is he thinking about you now?” I asked.

Claire smiled at me, no animosity in her face. “Yes.”

“Have you considered giving him a blow job?”

The animosity returned. “What the fuck—”

“I’m serious. It might jump start him.”

“I’m not going to suck him off when he’s lying there helpless like that!”

Logic score: zero. “Why not? You think he’ll get mad? ‘Oh, no, stop, you’re getting it wet.’ Have you not met any boys before?” I turned to Jenny. “If I’m ever in a coma, I’m giving you permission to blow me as much as you want. Knock yourself out, sky’s the limit. Think of it as life support.”

“Am I really going out with him?” Jenny asked the others. Both Flossie and Claire closed their eyes and nodded slowly.

“Can you try to heal him?” said Claire. 

I still felt the BJ idea was worth a shot, but there was no harm going with the more conventional method first. Sorry, bro, I tried.

I sidled along the bed trying not to look at Mount Tai. I raised my hands and held them over his face. It’s not easy touching a guy when he has a raging boner, even if it’s nowhere near his penis. I’m not saying it’s gay, but it isn’t normal, either. Although I’m sure if I had access to the internet, I’d find a huge community dedicated to it. Most of them politicians. What is it about politics that attracts sexual deviants?

These and other philosophical questions passed through my mind. I decided to get it over with as quickly as possible and poured maximum magic directly into his head.

Maurice’s body convulsed, his back arched, his stiffy pointed the way to heaven, like Mount Tai, and then he fell back down with his eyes open.

He looked at us, yawned and then rolled onto his side mumbling, “Five more minutes, yeah?”

Claire screamed and jumped on him. Flossie and Jenny were both crying. Keezy stood in the corner looking uncomfortable. I gave him a ‘whatyagonnado?’ shrug.

All we had to do now was avoid Biadet and the rest of Gullen’s men, make it out of Dargot in one piece and get to the dragon, which hopefully was still waiting for us. And less than an hour to do it all. Easy.

There was a knock on the door. “Time’s up.” 

Damn, that went quick.

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