She was in a cell. Hillock was standing outside. ‘You’ll be safe in there for as long as you live,’ he taunted.
There was a shadow behind him. The Face slid into view. He was holding a stun gun. He unlocked the cell door and strode inside. ‘I warned you, DS Steel.’
He pressed the gun against her and pulled the trigger. A thousand stars exploded in her brain. She felt herself falling onto the concrete floor. She put out a hand.
‘Somebody rescue me.’
There was a clank of chains. Orson Angers swam into view. He shook his head. ‘If there was any other way.’
Images passed through her mind: Marty in a body-length plaster cast, Brains offering a cup of tea, Paul with a Seagull on his head, a man fishing, Tania Simpson laughing, a pocket phone ringing...
...it woke her up. She had fallen off the sofa. The phone was beside her; she saw his number.
She hit the green button; listened. He sounded concerned. ‘I was worried when you didn’t call. Are you all right?’
Her voice was groggy. ‘Fell asleep. What time is it?’
‘Just gone four.’
‘Oh, hell. I’ve got to get to the hospital ... can you give me a lift?’
‘When I called this morning she had regained consciousness.’
‘Great. When do you want to go?’
She could feel the dried sweat patches on her skin. She needed a bath and a change of clothes, some colour to lighten her mood. ‘I’ll be ready by five ... anytime after that.’
‘Okay ... see you in a bit.’ He rang off.
She was sitting on the sofa, glumly looking into her hand mirror, and pulling out a few stray white hairs when he turned up.
When she opened the door, he was quick off the mark. ‘You look great.’
So do you.
She brushed the compliment aside, but gave him a coy smile and a punch on his arm. ‘Save the flattery for later, big boy.’
While they were in the car – his mother’s Land Cruiser – she brought him up to speed.
His reaction was as predictable as hers had been. ‘Angers is taking the piss ... Hillock ... a good guy? No way, Jose.’
He hooted at a pheasant on the roadside. ‘Dumb bird ... I can’t believe it.’
Jackie heard a bump, looked in the side mirror and saw a trail of feathers floating in the air. ‘Whatever ... Angers is not going to shift his arse. Bottom line ... I’m shafted.’
Paul was peering into the rear-view mirror. ‘Fucking thing just stood there.’
She nudged his arm. ‘Paul.’
He glanced at her: nodded his head. ‘Shafted.’
Me, the bird, or both?
Carol wasn’t talking. She ignored them, didn’t react to their wishes for a speedy recovery, as though she wanted to be somewhere else. She lay in her bed, still attached to a couple of monitors and a saline drip, and stared blankly at the ceiling tiles. The monitors were bleeping steadily; heart rate and blood pressure normal.
Jackie tried once more. ‘Carol ... we’re trying to help you...’
Carol closed her eyes and yawned. This time she answered, her voice trembled. ‘Leave me alone, I’m tired.’
Jackie glanced at Paul. He shrugged.
She bent in close. ‘I’ll come and see you tomorrow. Maybe you’ll feel better, then.’
Carol opened her mouth, murmured. ‘Serena...’
It was no use. Carol did not say anymore. But it was enough for Jackie. She dragged Paul to his feet. ‘Come on ... let’s go down to the lab and see if Helga’s working today.’
The Ice Queen was engrossed with the contents of a test tube, but her face melted when she saw Jackie - even smiled at Paul when he went walkabout.
‘Early days, but results are positive.’
Jackie made sure they were on the same wave-length. ‘Carol, you mean?’
Helga held up the test-tube. ‘See this.’
Jackie peered at the red liquid inside. ‘What am I looking at?’
‘That’s Carol’s immune system ... a few million cells.
Helga was bubbling. ‘And it’s healthy. Once we identify what’s happening ... and why ... we could inhibit this viral strain of AIDS.’
Jackie’s eyes lit up. ‘Really?’
Helga put on her severe face. ‘It’s promising ... but there’s a long way to go.’
Paul was hovering at her shoulder. He came to the point. ‘How long?’
Helga was evasive. ‘New drugs are constantly being developed...’
And that was it.
Helga made no bones about it. Preventative methods would be the first line of defence. Already, seventeen known cases had been recorded, and this number would rise in the short term.
Jackie frowned. ‘What’s your best guess?’
Helga was cryptic. ‘The government would act before numbers became critical.’
Paul grimaced: the slow pace of bureaucracy. ‘By then it could be out of control.’
Helga opened her arms, made the gesture. ‘That’s the message we have to get across ... without causing widespread panic...’