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Death is in my sight today

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Beverly Katz doesn’t speak Arabic as well as she’d like, she’ll freely admit it.  But she’s not used to navigating words like cardiology and orthopaedics, and something that she thinks might be gynaecology -- she can’t quite read the sign, and the tension twists and roils in her gut as she realises she’s taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line.  This corridor looks exactly the same as the last one, and the one before that.  She’s got a nasty feeling that she’s going round in circles, and she doesn’t have time for this shit.  There must be someone around: a doctor or nurse, or even an orderly.

She stops for a moment, wiping her forehead and pulling her blouse away from the damp skin of her stomach and her back.  There’s a sweet rush of air, then she feels fresh sweat begin to trickle down between her shoulder blades, and the moment she lets go of the fabric it clings to her worse than before.  It’s a typical Cairo afternoon, hot and smoggy, and the whine and buzz of the fluorescents is starting to give her a headache.  Her mind jumps ahead to her destination, to what she’s going to find there -- jumps ahead to Will -- and sudden, surging panic tightens around her throat.  She sucks in a lungful of stale air and forces herself to hold it for a moment, to let it ease back out with at least an illusion of calm.  She takes another breath.  She closes her eyes.

She opens them again, and there, finally, at the T-junction up ahead: a man in scrubs wheeling a trolley.  She calls out, and his head whips round, startled, but he stops and waits for her, and he can’t be any worse at giving directions than the woman on the reception desk.  Bev recites her carefully practised words, but the man just stares at her blankly.  She’s pulling out her phone, about to type what she can’t seem to speak, when the man’s face brightens with comprehension.  Beverly’s Arabic may be basic, but it’s fine for left and right, forward and back, the practicalities of everyday life.

“Thanks,” she says, already striding away, back the way she came, past the water cooler and the bulletin board, back to the stairs that aren’t an emergency exit, after all.  She sprints up them, two at a time, fired by the adrenaline churning in her system.  Through the double doors, and she finds herself not in another corridor but a ward, a ward with a desk and a nurse behind it, and she thinks -- she hopes -- that she’s found the right place at last.

“Is this the psychiatric ward?”  The man doesn’t look up, just keeps on rummaging through the papers spread out in front of him.  “Excuse me, sir.”  Even if her pronunciation isn’t perfect, the annoyance in her voice comes across loud and clear.

The nurse lifts his head, making it clear that he’s a busy man, a man who has better things to do than run around after visitors.  Bev has seen the same expression on the faces of health professionals the world over, and normally she’d cut the guy some slack.  But nothing about this situation is normal, and she’s fought her way through the gridlock that is Cairo at rush hour to find this place.  Now all she wants is --

“Will Graham.”  She fixes the nurse with a look of her own, and it tells him precisely how much of a fuck she doesn’t give about his problems.  “He’s a patient here.  I want to see him.”

“Third door on the left.”  She doesn’t like the smirk that’s spreading across his face, but at least he’s talking.  “If he gives you any trouble, pull the alarm cord.  I’ll come and rescue you.”  She refuses to react to him, to the way his eyes devour her body, to the toothy grin that has nothing friendly about it.  She refuses to react, because this man is going to be looking after Will when she leaves, and she doesn’t have the luxury of antagonising him.  Not yet.

Bev starts walking.  She reaches the first door, and feels herself tensing, bracing for something -- someone -- to come bursting out, but the door remains closed and the room quiet, and she keeps on walking.  As she passes the second door she hears a voice, low and mournful, repeating a handful of words over and over, but she can’t quite make them out, can’t even tell if it’s a man's voice or a woman's.  She keeps walking.  She reaches the third door, but now that she’s here a sudden panic seizes her, urging her to turn around, to run away, to get out of this place of whispering madness.  But Will is in there and he needs a friend right now, so she opens the door and steps inside.

“Hey, Will.”

There’s no reply, and she thinks that maybe he’s managed to fall asleep like that, with his eyes half open.  Then he shifts beneath the sheets, and his head turns lazily in her direction, and as she watches his eyes struggling to focus she realises that they’ve given him something.  Her anger reawakens as she wonders whether it’s more for the nurses’ benefit than for Will’s, but there’s not much she can do without a doctor, and Will needs her to be calm right now.  She puts her anger to one side, parked but not forgotten, and she pulls up a chair.

“Well, this is weird,” she says, because that’s the way she is -- that’s the way they are -- and Will’s always been touchy about being coddled, even when he needs it.  Especially when he needs it.  “You look like crap.”  Now that she's close she can see how pale he is.  It's only the golden afternoon light that's lending his skin a little warmth.  She can also see the restraints, broad cuffs circling his wrists, and fastened to the rails of the bed with nylon straps.  “Kinky,” she teases.  “I didn’t know you were into this sort of thing.”

Will grimaces, his face contorting in a way that has Beverly halfway out of her chair and reaching for the alarm before she remembers that Will is fine -- physically, at least.  It takes her a while to realise that Will is smiling, or trying to, but he’s falling a long way short.  If he’s trying to reassure her then he’s doing a lousy job.  She settles back into her seat, and the silence congeals around them, and for the first time in a long time Bev finds herself having to filter what she says to Will Graham.  She considers the words of the doctor that she spoke to, the one who phoned her with the news, the one who gave her the instructions that are simple in theory if not in practice: avoid saying anything that might upset Will, anything that might set him off.

“What happened, Will?” she asks, because they’re going to have to talk about this sooner or later, and she’s really not sure how she can make things any worse, not when Will is already lying sedated in a hospital bed.

“Didn’t they tell you?”  He sounds the way he does after a few whiskies: not slurring, just not quite as sharp as usual.  It’s better than she feared.

“All I know for sure is that something happened and you ended up in this place.”

“Did they tell you about the mummy?”

“Yes.”  She hadn’t wanted to believe it.  She still doesn’t.  “Tell me what really happened, Will.  All I got was some crazy story about --”

“You think it’s crazy?”  Anger flushes across Will’s corpse-white features.  “You think that I’m crazy?”  He’s fully awake now, but Bev doesn’t want to see him like this, with his jaw clenched, a scowl darkening his expression as he glares at her.  “That mummy is real.”

Bev has no idea what’s brought this on.  Will’s always been a little different, a little sensitive, but there’s never been anything like this before, and it’s all so sudden.  Unless, perhaps, it isn’t.  Her mind sets off down a path that’s becoming painfully familiar, hunting back through the last few days and weeks, looking for a clue, a symptom, for something that she missed.

“Will.”  She looks him square in the face, waiting until she’s sure she has his attention.  “I need you to stop and listen to yourself.  Do you really think a mummy came to life and attacked you?  A cannibal mummy?”

“Thanks for stopping by.”  

She knows Will well enough to recognise the signs, to see the walls going up, to know that he’s shielding himself against the rejection -- against her rejection.  Guilt flares painfully, and smoulders on through the silence that settles between them.  This isn’t the way things are supposed to go.  They’re a team; they have each other’s backs.  They’ve been through scrapes before, and they’ve always come out on top.  But all of that, from the morning they found the scorpion in the shower to the time their jeep broke down in the desert, it all seems so small now, so mundane.  What they’re facing now is so much bigger, and she doesn’t know what to do.

“Okay, then,” Beverly says, and maybe she’s out of her depth here but she knows that she won’t do Will any favours by humouring him.  “Tell me this: if there really is a mummy running around, and it really is hungry for human flesh, why didn’t it just kill you when it had the chance?”

He doesn’t have an answer to that.  Bev sees the confusion on his face, the uncertainty, and, in this at least, she knows exactly what he’s going through.  She doesn’t exactly feel proud of herself, and the sensation of helplessness is rising again, a creeping inertia that threatens to smother her.  Beverly sighs.  She needs to speak to the doctor.  She needs to speak to a doctor, one she can trust.  She ought to leave before she does some real harm.

“The pyramid.”  Will’s sitting up in bed now, or trying to, panting with the effort.  “Are you going back there?”

Bev reaches for her purse.  She’s not going to play along with Will’s delusions, and she only seems to be making things worse.

“Are you?”  Will’s voice is high and tight, and there’s a kind of desperate ferocity about him that she’s never seen.  “Tell me.”

“I’m going now, Will.”  She stands.

Will lunges at her and she recoils, the chair screeching on the tiles and and clattering to the floor as she backs away.  But Will stops, frozen in place, arms motionless in mid-air, fingers reaching for her like claws.  She thinks that maybe he’s had some kind of seizure, but then she realises it’s the restraints that are holding him in place, holding him back, preventing him from grabbing her.  The straps are taut, but they’re standing up to the strain.

“Bev, please --”  Panic swells in his voice, and she realises that his ferocity, his savagery, is actually fear.  “I know it sounds crazy, but you can’t go in there.”  He’s afraid for her.

Bev takes his hand.  His fingers tighten around hers, tighten painfully, but she doesn’t let go.  He heaves out a shuddering breath, and relaxes, sinking back onto the mattress, the pressure of his grip relenting.  He looks like her friend again.

“Get some rest,” she tells him.  She sets the chair back on its feet and fishes her purse out from under the table where it fell.  “I’ll be back soon.  I promise.”

“Bev,” he croaks, sounding drained, sounding shattered.  It’s the hollow emptiness that follows an adrenaline rush, and Bev could do with a good eight hours herself.  Will rallies when she reaches the door, finding some reserve of energy, lifting his head off the pillow to fix her with a stare.  “Promise me you’ll keep away from that pyramid.”

Bev’s tired -- she’s beyond tired -- and she’s not sure that she’s thinking straight any more.  Will’s calm now, his eyelids drooping towards sleep, and she can’t bear the thought of provoking him again.  She opens the door and pauses, on the threshold.

“I won’t go anywhere near it,” she tells him.  It’s only a little white lie.