The Eighth Guest

Chapter Fourteen

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
4/24/02
'Fenwick, take us down.'
'But Master, we are nearly out of London. In just a few moments....'
'NOW, Fenwick.'
Tess almost cried out with joy as the skycar descended into the mists of London. Moriarty wound up the screen again. She felt something pressed into her hand, the locket dug into her palm. 'Something safe from me to pass to your children...it survived this far, it might as well go a few more generations. Goodbye, Tessa Moriarty.'
All she could say mutter was 'Thanks,' before the door opened and she felt the London smog on her face again. The cold London air around her battered evening gown made her shiver. She felt a strange sensation. It was as if she were six again, taking her few first tottering blasts upward on her skyboard -- no safety net below her and the open sky all around.... For the first time in a long time she felt free.
Her hand felt like it was still bleeding, the glove which helped her see the world ripped to shreds. She tried to bandage it with what was left of her dress but all it seemed to do was press the remaining shards of glass further into her hand. Her shoulders ached badly. She shook herself. She was alone and unarmed on what she could only assume was the outskirts of London, without money or any familiar sounds. It was also reasonable to think that Holmes would take a while to find her...if he found her.
She tried to move toward the streetlights that were glowing brighter as night closed in over London. She did not want to be caught in an alley downtown after nightfall; bad things happened to those who did. Managing to clear her head a little, she remembered her palm phone and turned it on. Dialling the numbers was tricky; her hands hurt. On the other end the phone rang. 'Pick up, pick up, damn you,' she hissed. Using the phone was dangerous; if anybody in the area had a tracer she would be found and mugged before Holmes and Ling could reach her. The line clicked. 'Peter?'
There was silence on the other end...for a second. 'Tess! Thank every god from here to Heaven's gates -- where are you?'
Tess took a deep shaky breath. 'I don't know. He dropped me off somewhere downtown...I can't see where, Peter, I can't...'
There was a scrabbling on the other end of the phone. Tess heard someone say 'Give the phone to me.' Holmes came on the line. 'Are you all right, Miss Moriarty?'
Tess breathed deeply. Her hand was bleeding again; she could smell the blood, and it made her feel sick. 'I think my hand's hurt badly. Holmes I don't know where I am....'
'What can you smell?'
Tess frowned. 'What?'
'What can you smell, Miss Moriarty? Quickly.'
She took a deep breath. 'Blood, rubbish....' She sniffed again; she was beginning to feel woozy. 'Curry, chips...petrol, gutter smells and...and...soap powder.'
There was scribbling on the other end. 'What can you hear?'
Her head was beginning to throb; she tried to block it out. 'Someone's extraction system, that's quite loud...cat sounds and music...Hammersmith, I think; sky cars too, but not many. They seem far off...and...footsteps?'
She clicked the phone off and tried to slip it back in her pocket, but it was too late. 'Nice night,' she managed.
Someone sneered. 'Not fer you, it ain't.' There were more footsteps: slower, more deliberate. 'And over the palmer an' yer purse.'
She tilted her face to the light. There were four of them: one big, the others milling around behind him. Sighing, she drew out the phone and threw it over. 'I haven't got a purse. That's your lot.'
'Wot about the locket?'
She mentally kicked herself. The locket was hanging outside her dress in plain view. She tucked it back inside her dress; it felt precious to her.
"'And it over, less you want me to...."
She closed her good hand over the lump it made in her dress. 'It's just about all I've got left of my...my grandfather. Sorry, but it's personal.'
'Now yer really, really don't want us to start getting' personal. Yer wouldn't like it. And don't worry, damaged goods ain't worth nothin'. We'll take gooood care of it.'
She tried to back away. It was no use running; where would she go? There were footsteps in front of her; the gang moved in closer. She heard the jangling of metal.
'This is a flamer. It can cook yer from two metres away. Now 'and over the locket, or we'll even up yer face for yer.'
Flames roared in her head. The adrenaline began to race through her blood; anger reared its ugly head. Her racer side began to emerge -- the side that was harder, colder, more daring than Tessa Moriarty -- the side that relied on instinct rather than the rational -- the side that had won her gold on more than one occasion and had fought its way back from every fight. Inside the Phoenix screamed.
'No.'
There was silence. The footsteps backed up a little. She heard metal again and got on her toes ready to move. Suddenly one of the gang began whispering; feet began shuffling.
'Say, ain't yer the chick off of the screens?'
Tessa wasn't thinking straight; she ignored him and concentrated for any metal sounds that could be the flamer's trigger. The next voice was more high pitched Tess could see the shadowy outlines of the men become more animated as they talked.
'It is her, Rizz, it is. That ex-skyboarder that got toasted -- engaged to some chump off of the Hornets team last night. It's in all the screens.' Tessa groaned. She'd forgotten how quickly the news reporters could get hold of a story; it was probably mentioned in every sporting screen, from here to China. She could almost hear the gang thinking. She took another step back.
'Yeah, I remember yer. Lost me two hundred credits at the Silver Stone track last year when the race was called off, I was counting on the Mosquitoes to come in first, zed yer.'
Tessa's mouth was now operating without the intervention of her brain. 'Shows what happens when you back a bunch of cheating bloodsuckers.' Her body moved before her brain kicked into gear; she felt heat on her back and scrambled out of the flaming jacket...that was too close.
She caught a glimpse of the four men spanning; there was laughter again. 'Yer quick, 'sidering yer got no eyes.'
She straightened slightly. 'And you're good at talking, considering you're an illiterate, ill-mannered, hamfisted, zed for brains nobody.'
One of the shadows moved towards her; another pulled him back. 'Hang on, I've bin thinking, I bet that zeddin' Hornets chump would pay for her. I bet he'd pay a lot.'
There was a moment of silence while the gang considered this, Tessa moved back again. Her heel hit brick wall. Nowhere to run now, but at least they wouldn't use the flamer. She touched her hand; the cloth she'd used to bandaged it was wet. No wonder she felt so woozy.

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