Sample: Local Voices Chapter 3
The scene in the main room, decorated as it was with Alice’s rich collection of oil paintings, was one of opulence and apparent tranquility. That wasn’t so surprising. Despite Kevin’s grandmother being absent, off on a trip to the States, her calm, deliberate hand was everywhere. The books piled on a coffee table, one of them held open by a large pebble. The old-fashioned typewriter nestling up to an iPad. Her black housecoat hanging over the back of a chair, a fiery dragon crawling up its back.
In the kitchen area Leonor was busy making tea while by the window overlooking Covent Garden market Xenia talked in hushed tones on the phone. As for Kevin, she was curled up on the sofa, her head buried in her hands, asleep. Even Alice’s cat, snuggled up to Kevin, one paw planted over its face, smacked of peace and repleteness.
For all the apparent calm of the scene, something felt amiss. As if someone were trying to hide an unsavoury reality. Annie instinctively sniffed her fingers, but the smell of rotten eggs was gone. Xenia leaned against the window peering out. “…an organised attack…” Annie heard her say, her voice rising. “Yes. Thank heavens. We got there just in time.” She must have been talking to Decker, who had recruited her to protect Annie, along with two other young women, Cathy and Lisa with her dog. “Protection needs to be strengthened…” Xenia said. The young woman glanced up and caught Annie looking at her. She nodded in acknowledgment, then turned her back and lowered her voice.
It had been comforting having the three women watch over them during the Women’s March. Had they not avoided a bomb going off in the Strand? But the prospect of their continued presence and that of others in the shadows or glued to her side like Xenia, however much she liked the woman, was disturbing. It underscored her status as a public figure unable to break free of the spotlight.
A groan from Kevin had Annie glance at the girl. The cat was stretching, its back arched upwards in pure pleasure. Kevin’s restlessness had no doubt disturbed it. The girl did not wake, although a whimper broke from her lips. Annie was reminded of the troubled nights following Kevin’s rescue. Her kidnappers had badly beaten her. No amount of brave face could conceal the deep scars that had left. That the two of them had so narrowly avoided being trampled to death in Waterloo station must have brought the nightmare flooding back. It made Annie sad to think that attacks levelled at her ricocheted onto her girlfriend.
Leonor set a tray laden with tea things on the table and beckoned Annie to join her. She took her place, dunking a biscuit in the cup of tea the nurse poured her, when a knock sounded at the door.
“That’ll be Decker,” Xenia said, moving away from the window. “He was in the neighbourhood, so I asked him to drop by. I hope you don’t mind.” As in everything, the young woman was polite, considerate, but firmly in control. Annie got up to answer the door, but Xenia put out a hand to stop her. “I’ll get it,” she said, shooting Annie an apologetic look as if to say, excuse me for bossing you around, but it’s for your safety.
It wasn’t Decker, but Riya arm in arm with Ella, broad smiles on their lips as if they had been making out just before the door opened. Riya worked increasingly with Decker as his computer ‘commando’ on intelligence assignments. Her appearance often heralded the arrival of her new boss. Boss? More like an ally … to them all.
Annie felt she’d known Ella and Riya for ages. In fact, they’d only met a few weeks ago, quickly becoming friends. The two had been prime movers in the London Whatever movement, with Riya in charge of logistics during the march that had assembled several hundred thousand people. Ella had been the author of a cartoon depicting Annie opposed to Kard, the former Lord Mayor who’d been their arch enemy. The caricatures had been sprayed on walls all over the capital.
After rowdy hugs and kisses, causing a bleary-eyed Kevin to emerge, Ella dramatically dumped a newspaper on the table. She was capable of making even the most mundane act appear theatrical. “Today’s delightful pickings,” Ella said, stressing the word ‘delightful’.
Annie stared at the paper in disbelief. A close-up of her face with egg yoke snaking down her cheek filled the front page under the headline, Witch gets her due. The incident in Waterloo station had happened only a couple of hours earlier. “How the hell did they managed that?” she blurted out.
“I reckon they were in on it,” Riya commented, pouring herself a cup of tea. “They might even have organised the whole attack to get the photo.”
So now she was to be a prop in a drama staged by hostile media.
“Judging from the quality,” Ella added, “they had a professional photographer on hand.”
“However they did it,” Leonor said, skimming through the short article under the photo, “the trial was one of those fast-track affairs. Guilt was a foregone conclusion.”
Justice had rarely been a feature of witch trials. The whole process flowed backwards from the certitude the woman was guilty, along a path punctuated by her screams to the ultimate confession where proof and punishment were one. The ducking stool. The branding iron. The stake. The pyre.
Feeling powerless to oppose such an orchestrated onslaught, a sinking dread formed in Annie’s gut. This was nothing like the fabricated nightmares Kard had subjected her to. These were real events in the real world. She ran a tentative finger over the bruise on her cheek. Those angry women had been frighteningly real. The stampeding crowd too.