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Ratcatcher: Chapter 30

...She helped me struggle to sit up. I was right about the daylight it rammed rivets into my eyes. I groaned. Then I saw myself in the dressing-table mirror.

With a huge bandage wrapped around the top of my head, I looked like the Light Brigade on their way home...

High-risk Hussy hears how he was rescued from a tricky situation.

Colin Dunne continues his high-tension thriller. To read ealier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/ratcatcher/

Whatever it was, I swore to myself, whatever it was that did this to me, I'll never drink it again.

As a promise, it might not have been totally original, but I'd never sworn it with such sincerity before. Over and over again, as consciousness seeped back into my aching skull.

Somewhere out there were voices and people. I didn't much want to meet them. I didn't care for my side of the eyelids all firework displays and hot lances, but the thought of letting in sounds and daylight...

'I think he's coming round,' said a man's voice, not exactly brimming with sympathy. 'Will you tell him or shall I hang on for a minute?'

'It might be better coming from you.' That was Victoria. Slowly I realised the first speaker was Brassington.

I slipped a lid up and dropped it again. He was standing beside her at the window of the hotel room. But something was wrong. The double bed the one that I'd ambitions for was on my right.

'Are you awake?' she asked, coming nearer.

I heaved both eyelids up to half-mast.

'Sitting up and taking a soft-boiled egg. Give us a hand, will you?'

She helped me struggle to sit up. I was right about the daylight it rammed rivets into my eyes. I groaned. Then I saw myself in the dressing-table mirror.

With a huge bandage wrapped around the top of my head, I looked like the Light Brigade on their way home.

'You certainly attract incident,' she said.

'That's probably what Jack the Ripper said to his victims as he sawed them in half.'

'Still the old Irish joker, eh?' Brassington said. He was leaning against the window frame, posed for maximum languor and elegance. For Victoria, of course. He would.

She told me what had happened. She was a bit diffident about it, but then perhaps I wasn't at my most perceptive. Tony had cracked me over the head with a monkey wrench. She'd managed to get me to Tiger's shack. He didn't want to know about us at first, but then when he saw the state I was in he let us in. He'd helped her get me back to the hotel, and then they'd called the doctor.

'Have you got them?' I asked Brassington. 'The bike boys?'

He gave me one of his best sneers then, a real five-star job.

'You don't really seem to appreciate your position, Hussy. You broke into their premises, you threatened them, you assaulted at least two of them, and you were apparently waving an automatic pistol which seems to have got conveniently lost.'

I remembered what Tony had said on the same subject. You might have thought they were working off the same script.

'So it's all my fault.'

'Frankly, yes. Fortunately, from your point of view, they've all scarpered, so there's no one to press charges against you.'

'That's nice. Did you help them pack?"

'No one notified us of this incident until this morning. Then your old pal Tomkins reported it.'

'Tiger?' I didn't like the sound of that.

'As you call him. When we got up to the quarry that old shed had been cleared out and they'd gone.'

'No film, no magazines?'

'Nothing,' he said, with evident satisfaction.

He strolled over to the door and opened it.

'We'll want a statement off you later. We've already got one off your... wife?'

'I am not his wife,' Victoria said, in a clenched-teeth voice. 'This is all... a sort of joke that went wrong.'

I was a bit peeved about that. I'd already seen that I'd been relegated to a single bed beside the big one.

'Hey,' I said. I pointed up at the bandage. 'You may remember that I got trhis helping you.'

That gave Brassington his chance, of course. He was still hovering in the doorway, and at that he stepped back inside.

'You ought to know what you owe . . . your friend. Do you recall that Dawn girl attacking her? Well, you went to the rescue, or rather failed to go to the rescue, and got yourself clobbered over the head. As you collapsed, Miss Finch took your Browning out of your hand and fired it. Quite creditably, as it turned out. She winged the photographer in the shoulder, which successfully deterred any more assaults against your person. She then, single-handed, somehow carried you to Tomkins' house. On the way she was obliged to fire once more to deter pursuit. I wouldn't mind having her on my force, Hussy. I wouldn't have you to sweep the floors. Goodbye.'

I did remember it then. Victoria hauling me through the forest, me falling, and Victoria telling me to try.

I looked at her. She'd gone to look out of the window so she wouldn't be embarrassed by the policeman's statement. She was wearing a scarlet silk shirt and washed-out jeans. For the price of the shirt you could've bought the jeans factory and the place next door. Catholic taste, they call it.

'Thank you,' I said. 'I didn't do too well.'

'Oh, not bad for a concussed Cockney Dago Mick,' she said. Tiger must have told her that. We both laughed. That reminded me.

'And Tiger didn't want to help?'

'Not really. He seemed worried about it. He told me a lot about you.'

I turned cold. What would he have said? It was bad enough her seeing me as a fool without seeing me as gun-shy too.

She came over and sat on the double bed facing me.

'Now you're looking worried. I don't know why. He said you were brave. What was it he said now? "Hussy'd walk into a full-scale gunfight without using a gun, and that takes guts." He said they used to call you High-risk Hussy.'

I didn't know what to say to that unexpected reference, so I asked her how I came to be in a bachelor's bed.

'I realise women walk in terror of my physical prowess,' I said. 'But I do think this is being a bit over-cautious.'

'It was the doctor,' she said, her eyebrows moving maybe a millimetre. 'He said you were in no fit state to share a bed with a woman like me.'

'And do you think he's right?'

'We shall never know, Mr Hussy, shall we? Tea?' She picked up the telephone.

I nodded. 'And smoked salmon too, I expect.'


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