Sid didn't recognise him at first. Thought it was just some random homeless guy at his door, looking for meth money. Clothes had seen better days, and it looked like the dude had been cutting his own hair and beard. To top it all, he's got a knackered leg.
Thankfully he’s lacking the eye watering fug of the long-term unwashed, but even so Sid's on the point of shaking his head and shutting the door... then spending the rest of the day getting a kicking from his conscience...when the guy speaks. Even then, the voice is different. Hoarse and hesitant, but the gruff, monosyllabic way of speaking is familiar.
"Need anything done, Sid?" The penny dropped.
“Razza? Fuckin’ hell, mate, what'ya been doing with yourself? You look like a fuckin’ dero!”
“Car’s bust. Leg’s bust.”
“No shit. Come on in here, sit yourself down.” Sid came back with a beer, handed it to the new arrival. “Want me to take a look at it?”
Ramsay looked at him warily.
“Not your knee, ya mug. The car!” he grinned and took a swig. “I'm not a bloody leg doctor. There's a fella in town’ll sort that out. Yeah, yeah, I know. 'Don't touch the car'”
He barely knew Ramsay, really. He'd showed up at Sid's place only twice before. First time, Sid had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign up on the garage door. They'd got on surprisingly well, mainly because Sid could talk enough for the both of them.
Sid didn't know at the time, but he found out after that Razza had slept in his car for the two weeks he worked for him. He came back two years later; a bit thinner, quite a bit greyer and even less chatty.
Sid wasn't needing any help just then, but it looked like the guy needed a bit of a lift. He agreed to kip on his sofa, on the condition that Sid let him work in the garage. He wouldn't take any pay, though, and cleared out five days later. That was more than three years ago.
Max hobbled down the street towards the imaginatively named “Valley Physiotherapist and Chiropractor”.
God, he hated small towns. He fielded the curious looks of passers by. There was nowhere to hide, everyone knew every other bloody person. And everyone nodded at you like they knew you. Or stared. He felt like his skin was getting flayed from his bones with every encounter.
And he couldn't shake off the feeling that he'd been here before. Probably just looks like every other small town he'd passed through. He was getting worse, he knew. He'd end up living in a cave someday, roasting possum on a spit.
This town seemed to be an extreme case. He knew he wasn’t exactly Mr Respectable these days, but it didn't seem to justify the locals nudging each other and not-so-subtly nodding towards the dero limping past.
Maybe they killed off the homeless here and ate them at the annual barbeque. Pff, whatever. He wouldn't be here long enough to find out.
He opened the door of Valley Physio and tripped over the step while trying to hold the door and manipulate the unfamiliar crutch at the same time.
His descent floorward was interrupted by the almost the biggest, but definitely the hairiest, man Max had ever seen, who was passing through the room just in time to catch him.
"Sorry sir, that step gets everybody. We're getting a sign for it. And the automatic door's getting put in next week. Not much of a clinic if folks can’t get in, eh?”
He righted Max and handed him the crutch that had fell from his grasp just as it tangled between his feet.
Max grunted, less flurried by his undignified entrance…he'd waved off his dignity some years back...than by the unasked but undoubtedly useful human contact.
He cleared his throat. "Done m’knee in. No appointment. Any chance?" he enquired.
The hirsute giant ducked behind the reception desk and floundered about for a while, looking for the Book.
"Just be a minute. We're not long open and...yes, here it is...aaaand you're in luck!” he beamed. “Got nothing booked in 'til the end of the day. If you just take a seat over there..."
He pointed to a stack of plastic chairs in the corner next to a table piled toweringly high with magazines, "...I'll be with you in just a minute."
He disappeared behind a pile of boxes as the phone rang.
Max looked at the chairs and, balancing his weight on his good leg, hesitatingly lifted the top one from the stack. Easing down carefully, he considered whether this was a bad idea, or a really really bad idea.
Looking around, he saw a place that had indeed just opened. They had taken their first appointments on moving-in day. Optimists, evidently. Or just master multi-taskers, though the muffled swearing and banging from one of the side rooms suggested that someone had more than enough going on.
About fifteen minutes passed, just long enough for the faux-leather padded seat to become less of a welcome rest and more of a non-ergonomically-designed sweat factory.
"I am SO sorry to keep you waiting, sir." The large man moved hurriedly past him and stuck his head round the door of the side room, said something in a kind of shouty whisper to the person inside and ducked back out again as the phone rang for possibly the sixth time.
"If you just want to go on in, sir, Ms Jabassa will take your session."
He waved back toward the door he'd just been at.
Max peeled himself off the seat, found his crutch under the chair and moved toward the door, glancing briefly at the sign 'M. Palin BPhty AHPRA Registered'.
The door swung only halfway open when it met immovable resistance. Probably more boxes. He edged himself through the gap sideways and looked around. No one here.
But there are sounds of movement behind the desk. Peering round he sees someone's bedenimmed hindquarters. The rest of said someone seems to be rummaging around among cables and not much enjoying the task.
Max feels a bit silly just standing there and, because all available evidence suggests this is a female someone, it also seems a bit wrong. So he cleared his throat.
“What is it now?” a voice nearing the end of its tether emerged from below the desk.
“Er. Guy on reception sent me in…”
Thump. Ow. Head emerges.
“Oh…oh. Sorry. Wasn't expecting anyone right now…Take a seat. Wait…I'll find a seat.”
“So…er…what seems to be the problem? Knee? Recent injury?”
She fired up the laptop and logged into the new, expensive and lamentably buggy client management system. It's frozen. Dammit. She tries again, all the while trying to maintain small talk with the guy. He doesn't seem to be familiar with it.
Bloody thing’s crashed again…okay, signs of life now. Waiting for the system to load, her chin on her hand, she glanced at the client. Hunched uncomfortably on the plastic chair, looking like he’d gladly up and leave if he wasn’t immobilised by his injury and the lack of an obvious exit route.
Hmm... tense client, not going to be able to do much with him ‘til he relaxes a bit…
There's that playlist she’d put together, sceptically following the advice of her tutor. Give that a go. Can't hurt, anyway. That done, she turned her attention back to the rotating icon of this crappy software, patience unravelling.
Right, you can take this system and shove it right up…
“Did the receptionist give you a client form? No? Could you bear with me just one minute?”
She left the room with a forced smile and gritted teeth.
GOD'S SAKE, DAVE, WHAT YOU DOING SENDING IN A CLIENT WITHOUT GIVING ME A BIT OF WARNING? I DID GIVE YOU WARNING, I STUCK MY HEAD IN THE DOOR AND TOLD YOU. I WAS UNDER THE BLOODY DESK WITH MY HEAD IN A PILE OF CABLES, HOW COULD I HEAR WHAT YOU WERE SAYING? FAIR GO, FURY, YOU SAID WE NEEDED TO START OFF ON A GOOD FOOT, MR PALIN SAID WE NEEDED THE BUSINESS... BLOODY ACE CAN SAY WHATEVER HE LIKES AND THEN PISS OFF ON HOLIDAY, JUST WHEN WE'RE SETTING UP AND EVERYTHING...COULD YOU JUST TRY AND BE A LITTLE BIT MORE PROFESSIONAL NEXT TIME, YEAH?…HEY, WHAT'S THAT YOU'VE GOT PLAYING IN THERE? YOU HAVING A PARTY?
“Dooby dooby doop doop di doop...ahhh....ahhh-ha…”
Max's brows raised even higher as a falsetto voice pealed out…
"You've got a cute way of talking...you've got the better of me...just snap your fingers and I'm walking..."
Fury came running in just as the chorus kicked in with gusto.
"You make me feel like dancing..."
"Shit...wrong one..” she muttered, cheeks aflame as she made for the laptop. It wasn't as easy as it should have been, it being moving in day.
By the time she'd circumnavigated the piles of boxes and bashed her hip painfully off the side of the desk, the login had timed out.
The previous track had ended and the shuffle function had settled on a more electronicky one. It took several flustered efforts to key in her password, her composure further hampered by the frankly unreadable expression on the face of her newest client.
She couldn't figure out if he was enraged by the unprofessionalism of this outfit, or whether he just really didn't like her taste in music, but his face was working strangely, his brow furrowed and his face slowly reddening.
Shitty shitty first day.
By the time she'd got access to her music app and had the cursor hovering determinedly over the 'pause' button, she looked up in alarm at the curious spluttering sound that came from the man.
Was he choking? Then she realised, he was laughing...then the penny dropped. She hadn't noticed what the song was, but the chorus had just kicked in.
"Don't turn it off, don't turn it off, I kind of like it..."
She rolled her eyes helplessly and shook her head, unable to keep a her face from cracking into a grin. This was clearly serendipity. Or something.
Just as his eyes met hers with a kind of Are you hearing this too, or is it just me? look, his expression changed slightly. The brow that had cleared in quiet laughter furrowed again, but this time quizzically, like he was trying to remember something.
Maybe they'd met before? She didn't recognise his face, but maybe...voice sounded kind of familiar, all she'd heard of it anyway.
"Shall I leave it on, then?" she was about to ask. But the long screeeeech which followed was too much for her frazzled nerves. Of course, it would be ‘Get up Offa that Thing’. Oh, for God’s sake, gimme a break...
"Is this like...music therapy?" the man asked, wiping away tears of laughter.
"...suppose so.” She smiled resignedly. “Better than all that whale music shit, eh?"
Get up offa that thing...dance 'til you feel better
"Mmm-hm" he agreed.
Was he twitching slightly to the rhythm? Hah, yes she thought, amused at the change in the grumpy guy who'd walked in. Okay, deep breath, compose yourself. Professional face. Back to business.
"Shall we get started then? I don't think Dave got your name?"
"Max. Max Rockatansky" he replied promptly, then frowned.
She didn't notice his expression, she was looking down at a form.
"Could you spell that for me? Sorry, you probably get that a lot.”
No, he hadn’t got that in a long while. He’d been carefully incognito for so long he’d almost forgotten how to spell his own surname. Why’d he have to go and blurt it out like that? Shit.
But the session proceeded pretty satisfactorily to all parties. The physio examined his knee, manipulated it in a few ways that made Max grit his teeth initially, but actually made it feel looser, more flexible pretty much immediately. Some kinda magic there.
She showed him a few things he should do, morning and evening, to improve the mobility of the joint while strengthening the supportive tissue. The after-effects of the initial injury would probably always persist, but if he took care of himself, it should keep any discomfort to a minimum.
And the shuffle function was making a seemingly sentient effort to select music for the occasion. Laughter might not be exactly the best medicine, but it's not half bad. James Brown kept making helpful suggestions, such as 'Get on the Good Foot'. Aretha Franklin chipped in with 'Never Quit, Stay With It.’ There was a lot of mutual swearing and head-shaking, but things went surprisingly well.
By the time he’d thanked her, and was heading towards the door to the reception area, ‘Get Lucky’ was playing. He felt that he had, but he couldn't put his finger on the reason why.
Hell, it made a nice change, anyway.
Sid was on the crawler under a crusty-looking ute as Max limped up on his crutch.
“Hey mate, how'd it go? Get fixed?"
"Yeah, lots better...thanks"
Poor bloke sounded a bit out of it. Probably the painkillers, Sid thought. He looked up as his friend sighed a deep sigh.
“Sid? I should tell you…it's not my name…Ramsay Knox”.
"Hmph. Wondered when you'd come clean" Sid rolled himself out from under the truck and held out his hand. "Gonna reintroduce yourself?"
"Max. My name is Max."
Max phoned and made another appointment, but the earliest date available was over a month away. That's okay, he thought. Business seemed to be booming. Either that or they'd found opening day so traumatic they'd decided to rein in their expectations.
Besides, the knee was feeling pretty good, though it was just one session. He'd been religiously doing the exercises she'd shown him. Every time he did them, he thought of her. He was glad...she seemed a lot happier than when they'd first met, though that wouldn't be much of a challenge.
She clearly didn't recognise him, which wasn't surprising, though he thought she'd changed more than he had over the years.
But then, she'd been so blinded by tears that she'd not looked at him directly in the face once during the drive home. Gaunt, exhausted, overworked and overwhelmed.
Now when he thought of her, that image was replaced by a confident-looking professional, happy in her work, bright with laughing embarrassment.
You make me feel like dancing...
Ramsay Tack Knox is an anagram of Max Rockatansky. He worked it out on a bit of paper one night when he couldn't sleep.
Confession: First time I saw Ace on screen, I thought it was Michael Palin trying out an action role for a change.
This chapter’s tunes:
Don’t Turn It Off
Get Up Offa That Thing (Dance Til You Feel Better), James Brown
Get It Right, Aretha Franklin
Get Lucky, Daft Punk
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Leo Sayer
Worth watching this video purely for the dance moves
Chapter 2: Concrete and Clay
The first chance encounter.
About five or six years earlier...
Max sat in his patrol car, staring into middle distance, car stereo playing faintly.
‘The sidewalks in the street
The concrete and the clay beneath my feet
Begins to crumble
But love will never die
Because we'll see the mountains tumble
Before we say goodbye’
He knows should turn it off, he listens to it too often, but he lets it play on.
In one hand, a dogeared photo. The other toyed absently with a paper bag, fresh from pharmacist. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep pretending he could carry on like this. The job held no interest for him anymore. The sharp grief had dulled to this gnawing emptiness. Soon it'd be time to quit.
Something caught his eye, a movement in the stillness of the early morning mist. It was just after five and the city had barely begun to stir, at least out in this end of town. A figure, running. Tall, thin, like someone who does marathons. She passed the car on the opposite side. In this lethargic state, his eyes followed anything moving.
When she was almost out of view, she slowed, staggered and seemed to double over slightly. Then disappeared round a corner.
Max thought a moment and frowned...had she just got a stitch? Cramp? Or was it something more serious? He grabbed his bag pharmacy purchases…a bottle of water and some snacks...and the thin blanket he kept for when he slept in the car.
He got out and followed in the runner's direction 'til he was finally convinced she'd kept on moving and outstripped him.
Doubling back, as he passed the mouth of an alleyway, he heard gasping from the shadows. The runner was huddled by some bins, sitting against the dripping wall, hugging her knees.
"Oh, hey..." he began but, taking in the sight, it was clear that the woman wasn't sick, wasn't injured, didn't need any first aid. She was just curled in on herself and crying like her whole world had ended. So Max just sat himself down nearby and waited.
After a while, she raised her head and saw him. But she didn't seem to have the energy or will to react to his presence.
"You alright?" he asked. A stupid question, but he had to say something.
She tried to get to her feet, but gave up halfway and slumped down again, with a shuddering sigh.
"Car's round the corner" he nodded in the direction of the street. "You could have a more comfortable seat, anyway".
Seeing she eyed him warily, he unclipped his badge and held it at arms length. "Real cop, honestly."
They sat in the patrol car, doors wide open. Fury, huddled in a blanket, taking sips of water from the bottle.
"Thanks..." She said, finally. "Sorry. It was just…I couldn't go on...got too much."
The cop made a gesture towards her running gear with an enquiring look.
She shook her head. "No, it’s not that. Exams, work...just doing too much, I guess."
“You should eat something. Take a look in there."
He indicated a carrier bag at her feet. Seeing her reluctance, he added “Couple of chocolate bars in there. I'll take one as well. No breakfast." He continued to look out the drivers side, hands idly tapping on the steering wheel.
She leaned forward cautiously and rummaged in the plastic bag, her fingers first finding a paper pharmacy package but then clasping two wrapped bars.
“So...it’s just that you been working too hard?" He pursued the subject, taking the bar she offered with a nod of thanks. "Nothing else?"
Her fingers twitched restlessly. This was a strange predicament. She needed to talk, but usually kept her troubles to herself so well that there was never an natural opportunity. Now she’d gone and crumbled in front of a total stranger. And Christ, why’d it have to be a cop?
Yet this situation wasn’t tripping any of her alarm bells. The car doors were open. She’d seen him walk with a limp and could certainly outrun him, not having covered many miles this morning.
Besides, he didn’t seem entirely present. Seemed like he’d stopped to do his duty but would much rather be going about his business, or just be back in his own head.
And goddammit, she probably had nothing to lose. Sick of paranoia, keeping it all in. Sick of everything. Fuck it.
“Well…My mum died. Couple of years ago. I kind of buried myself in working, and running...just so I wouldn't have to think. It was just her and me, and..."
Her voice cracked and she paused to compose herself. Talking to a stranger was one thing, but breaking down was another entirely.
"’M sorry” he said, quietly. “What happened?”
"She was cycling home from work and…a car she passed just...exploded."
She opened her hand almost without realising, mimicking the act.
“Police said it belonged to someone...some gang member. It was a hit, apparently" she sighed, her voice becoming hard and flat. "They didn't do a very good job though. Device wasn't working right. Triggered too early. It just killed mum. Collateral damage.
“The last few years have been kind of a fog. I did my last exam yesterday.” She huffed a bitter laugh. “Now I've run out of distractions...
“And I don't want to think. When I think, I get angry. People are just things to them. Expendable. Makes me want to find whoever's responsible” she clenched her fist compulsively “and just...I don’t know…make them pay."
She remembered she was talking to a cop and added, with a weary laugh, "I won't, though. Wouldn't know where to start." She shrugged wearily. "What can I do? I can't do anything."
The cop stared out the driver’s door for a few moments, then replied in a low voice she could barely catch, "Maybe...maybe the best revenge is to take your life back."
She made a noise between a sob and laugh. "Life? What life?"
“Friends?" he asked.
She shook her head. "They wouldn’t understand.” Then rebuked herself. That wasn’t fair. She had some good friends in the city, but it wasn’t the same.
“Mum and I moved to the city when I was fourteen. We had real close friends at home. It was a close community. Kind of lost touch, though. I sent them a letter when mum died, but it was returned. Recipient not found."
She shook her head hopelessly. "They must've moved on. I should probably keep trying, though..."
But she barely had the energy to tie her shoes, let alone...
The cop’s fingers stopped drumming and he sat up straight in his seat. Fury glanced towards him, assessing this shift in demeanour.
"Maybe...I could try...if you gave me a name, I could do a search...get you an address."
She paused for a moment. Why not? It grated on her to have a cop snoop through her friends records, but then again…she would never know otherwise. She decided to trust.
“Brynhildr Smith...my best friend when I left home. She answers to Valkyrie, or Val."
He made a sound of surprise and rummaged in his pockets for a bit of paper for her to write it down. "Can’t be too many of them about…”
Fury smiled a little as she scribbled it on a old receipt…that was one thing she and Val had in common, having to spell their names for people. Oh god, it felt like a whole different life. Don’t hope.
"I'll try" he assured her. "She about your age?"
She nodded. "Twenty one last month.” she glanced up at him briefly, but her eyes were so swollen with crying. And she had such a headache...she rubbed her eyes. But she couldn't help feeling a little bit of hope, a welcome distraction.
She remembered the bar that was rapidly melting in her hand, and nibbled at it.
"I should get you home. Maybe take it a bit easier, yeah?”
So they drove to her address. As she got out of the car, she nodded her thanks with a weak smile. She wasn’t fit for anything more effusive.
He saw her let herself into her door, waited a few moments and then drove off.
On his way back to the station, Max thought...
Hypocrite…try taking your own advice sometime. Take your life back. But no. He had nothing left. Nothing at all.
He would have his letter of resignation written before the week was out. But first, do one good thing...
Two days later, he walked up to her place on the way to the station. The envelope was blank – he didn’t know her name. Then he realised that it was an apartment and he had no idea which letterbox was hers.
But just at that moment Max felt relief mixed with a sense of impending awkwardness. Here was someone coming through the door; a tall man carrying two takeaway coffees and a polyester shopping bag slung over his shoulder. The man – young once you saw past the receding hairline – stopped short and glanced warily at the cop hovering in the hallway.
“Hey. Um. Is there a woman living here? Quite young, shaved head?” Max rubbed his own head. The man continued to stare blankly. “Goes running?” Max added, desperately trying to think of non-personal descriptors.
“May-be…?” the man replied hesitantly, lifting his sunglasses and perching them on his head, presumably to get a better look at Max.
“She’s not in trouble.” Max clarified, and held up the envelope. “Just need to give her this. Lost…property, I guess?”
“Oh. Right. Yes, I know now who you mean. Silly me, forget my own head next. I’m going up now, I can take it. If you just tuck it in…here…” The man waggled two free fingers that weren’t currently being used.
Max hesitated a moment and tucked the letter between the man’s fingers and the coffee cup he was holding. “It’s important, yeah?”
“Sure, got it, no worries.”
Max hung around til he was satisfied. He heard the guy press the intercom button and say, ‘Let me in, I got breakfast! Hey, did you lose something? There’s this cop out here…’ And then a woman’s voice replied with something that he couldn’t decipher.
Buzz. Door clicks open, slams shut. Job done, time to move on.
This chapter’s song is Concrete and Clay by 60s band Unit 4 + 2
Chapter 3: Going Back To My Roots
Fury finds what she’s been missing.
Max had kept an eye out for her over the next couple of days, but there was no sign. Presumably she'd decided on a routine change. He hoped this boded well.
That morning he went for a walk in his civvies. It was his day off. He had to try to plan a new life, now he'd officially jacked the job in. He’d be moving on, that was certain. Too many memories here.
Turning the corner, he saw her, at least he was almost certain it was her, getting on a bus. A bus to Valley Haven, where her friend's address was. He turned about and jogged round the corner to the next stop, where he boarded. He caught a glimpse of her sitting near the back. Just a quick stolen look, he didn't want to catch her eye...what was he doing? Was this weird? She looked hopeful, gazing our the window. He sat near the front and pretended to read his paper.
Twenty-five minutes later, the bus pulled up in Valley Haven and she got off, glancing briefly at him as she passed...did she recognise him? He waited 'til the next stop and got off. What now? He began to properly consider what he was actually doing.
He just wanted to see if she would find her friend. Otherwise he'd done nothing. But it could be considered a bit creepy, following her like this. He just wanted to know, 'else he'd always be wondering. So he walked nonchalantly to a café within eyeshot of the address, ordered a coffee and waited. At least he had his paper, though he couldn't focus for more than a minute at a time.
There she was, ringing the bell. A long pause. She fidgeted, that hopeful look beginning to fade...come on, someone open the door. At last, the door opened. A tall young woman, hair in a long dark braid. Matched the photo on the file of Brynhildr...Valkyrie...Val.
Val looked, stared, flung her arms around the visitor. Their foreheads met in a peculiar but touching gesture. Thank God, he thought, relieved. Val turned as if to call to others, and ushered her inside. He’d never found out her name...
A few moments later, he saw a group sitting by an open bay window. She was with them. Animated conversation, hugs, smiles. They looked happy.
He finished his coffee, left some money and departed. So there might be some hope after all...
Keep was peering out of the window intently while the others talked. She knew she'd have trouble getting a word in anyway, so her eyes had wandered while she listened. Now they fixed on an interesting object. In the café across the road was a young fella in a black t-shirt whom she'd noticed earlier…he’d been looking anxiously over in their direction just before the doorbell rang.
He was still there, still watching intently. But his demeanour was more relaxed, head resting against the window pane. Wistful, that's the word.
He's probably just thinking about his dinner, she thought. But, Keep being Keep, she took the opportunity to say "You know, Fury, I think you've got a stalker. Young fella in the café over there."
Fury peered out the window. A few days ago, those words would have her on high alert, but she felt on top of the world right now. Nothing could touch her now she was back with the Mothers.
"Who? I don't see anyone...no wait, someone's coming out. Going the other way though. Don't recognise him, but it's hard to tell."
"You don't know him from behind then?" Keep chuckled. "Not a bad view. Neat little bum on ‘im.”
"Hang on..." Fury mused. "I wonder, was he on my bus? Had a newspaper...yeah, looks a bit like him."
"Maybe it's your Good Samaritan." Val nudged her. "Checking you'd found us okay."
"If it is, you better keep an eye out." Phyllis nudged her, with a quirk of an eyebrow. "Maybe track him down."
Fury shook her head with a smile. This lot hadn't changed much. Still liked to stir it.
“No, no, he was wearing a wedding ring. Already booked.”
Nah, just a cop trying to be a decent human being.
But she was haunted by the image of a solitary man sitting slumped in a car, the picture of apathy, with a pharmacy bag in the passenger footwell. Staring at nothing.
Fury looked out the bay window again but the street was empty.
This chapter’s soundtrack? Going Back to My Roots, by Odyssey
Chapter 4: Stay The Same
How Max went away, and how he came back.
It'd been nearly eighteen months since they'd died. Ripped away from him in an instant. A car had run a red light and hit the back of their car side-on. They'd both been in the back seat, didn't have a chance.
He'd retreated into himself. Fantasies of retribution boiled in his head. Until the trial, anyway. In the dock was a skinny kid, terrified and alone. He'd been ‘unwell’ when he'd hit them, the defence lawyer said. Not much of a defence when there was four ounces of coke on him, plus what they found hidden under the spare. Or so the judge thought anyway.
Got fourteen years for dangerous driving occasioning death, while under the influence of illegal substances. Plus fifteen for trafficking.
Not so much the book thrown as the whole shelf. It should have been a consolation that 'justice' had been done to its utmost. Killing a cop's family probably added weight to the offence. But the whole process didn't put Max's anger to bed. It just transferred it. What happens to the dealers, the suppliers, the kingpin at the head of it the operation? Sweet fuck-all.
But they took him off the Moore investigation. Said he was emotionally compromised. Couldn't argue with that. Especially coming back from compassionate leave with his right hand in plaster. Just the wall, he'd told the counsellor. But it left him...with nothing. Could do nothing. Nothing worthwhile, anyway.
His interest in the job faded away. As with the pain in his hand, the grief faded from white-hot agony to a dull ache...he found he just didn't care anymore. He used to love the idea of helping people, used to be good at it, but this apathy made the job meaningless, empty.
All he could do was up and leave. Get away from everyone he knew.
That physio session had been the psychological equivalent of a a defibrillator. Before, he was numb, unresponsive, silent. Slowly dying inside. Then, in such...bizarre circumstances, he'd been laughing...he was amazed he even remembered how…and then he recognised her. A double shock to the system.
And then everything changed. He'd told her his name. Just like that.
Stay The Same, Bonobo
Chapter 5: Black Coffee
A disappointed Max licks his wounds.
“Sorry sir, Ms Jabassa's no longer seeing clients here. Mr Palin will be taking your session today."
And, seeing his surprise and disappointment, the receptionist added, "Mr Palin is very good...he's the resident physio here. Ms Jabassa was covering while he was away.”
But he could hardly just walk away. What an awkward, grouchy patient he'd been. And without the excuse of his knee actually giving him much trouble.
Shit. He hadn't even asked about her. But how could he? What could he even say?
Fuck. So here he was, in the same café, at seven in the evening. Opposite the last place he'd seen her. Clutching at straws? It didn’t bode well that the café’s name had changed since to ‘Bean and Gone’. The universe clearly liked a joke.
There's a conversation going on behind him.
"...well, I still think it's a bit dodgy."
"Don't worry about it...it’s not like you didn't do the same when you were young. Maybe she'll give you some."
"Easy for you to say...I'm legally her landlord. Can't really deny knowledge. The heat coming up from the floor is a bit of a giveaway."
“You're not paying the gas bill."
"That's what I'm worried about...what if it's noticed by the people who do...?"
"Play the innocent old biddy..."
"Fuck off, you're older than me."
"I know. That's why I know it works."
Exasperated sigh. "So where's our Fury this blessed evening?"
Fury. That's what the receptionist had called her. It hadn't registered with Max that it might actually be her name, since she'd been lambasting the poor bastard at the time.
"Disco night at the Bunch of Grapes."
"Funny how these things never die. With Ace?"
Amused chuckle. "Who else?"
This sparked a chain of thoughts in Max's brain.
Ace? Who the hell is Ace? And why that chuckle?
Max wandered 'til he found the Bunch of Grapes. "Boogie Nights", the sign said.
Against his better judgement, he walked in where angels fear to tread.
I'm feeling mighty lonesome
Haven't slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Ps the Bunch of Grapes is a Pratchett pub. It’s a good name.
Chapter 6: Funky Town
Max makes contact.
The music was loud, lights danced across the floor. But, apart from a few small groups, most of the clientele were centred round the bar.
He'd hoped to get a spot in the corner where he could observe without being seen but, since it’s unseemly to sit without a drink, he first joined the crowd jostling for the bartenders’ attention. All while trying to keep an eye out. At least she was tall. Maybe she’d be wearing platform shoes.
Ten minutes later and no closer to getting that drink. It probably didn’t help that he was constantly surveying the room and letting people get in front of him.
He was going to give it five more minutes, no more…when he saw her cross the floor in company with a tall man in flares and a loud shirt.
While she was in t shirt and jeans, the guy was definitely well suited for the occasion. And he had the same barber as Barry Gibb. That’s got to be Ace, surely.
He watched her animated conversation with the guy, who looked kind of familiar himself. Max idly wondered what they were laughing at. It was a pleasant sight, anyway. Fury. He silently tried the name a few times.
Just then, Max caught her eye. He hadn't said it out loud, had he? He blinked, looked away a second too late, trying to pretend he hadn't been staring.
Before he'd had time to collect his thoughts and turn back towards them, he heard a voice call out.
“Hey! Guess your knee’s a bit better? Since you're testing it here?"
Max turned, unsure whether to be glad or to just sink through the floor. Yep, there she was, standing clear of the crowd.
“It is” he called back. “Fine now.”
Always the master of witty repartee, Max. Fuuuuck.
“Can I get you a drink?” he managed, pointing towards the bar. Then, remembering she wasn't alone, he quickly added "and your friend too."
“Oh, don't worry about Ace.” She replied, squeezing through the crowd to stand by his shoulder. “He probably wouldn't feel he'd earned it, anyway."
"Huh?" Max looked blank.
"He didn't think he'd done a great job today. Didn't quite manage to put a spring in your step."
Max stared over at the tall man, who was in earnest conversation with a couple of people at the end of the bar. He waved back. Max nodded a greeting, squinted, trying to place the face. Then he realised.
Ohhh... It’s a wig. Thank God for that. Replace the Crimplene vintage ensemble with a crisp shirt and trousers, and lose the BeeGees hair entirely to reveal a shiny dome...and you'd have today’s physio.
“He…doesn’t have your knack..." Max mumbled.
"I'm honoured" she laughed. "Just don't tell him that."
“I was just telling Ace about the opening day” Fury said, while trying to flag down a member of the bar staff.
“Went pretty well, I thought. Good…er…good customer service.” Max replied, uncomfortably aware of the growing sweat patches on his shirt.
“I’ll have to get you a feedback form.”
They made small talk with raised voices, the music getting that bit too loud for conversation. Jostling in all sides. Still no hope of getting served.
Just then, in an attempt to fill the floor, the DJ announced a mass attempt at 'The Hustle', participation strictly enforced.
Laughing at Max's look of alarm, she said "Don't worry, I'll write you a note. Look, we’re gonna be here all night waiting. You want to go somewhere else? Late-night café round the corner? Yeah?”
She squeezed her way out of the press and signalled to her friend who may have been too occupied with his footwork to notice. “We’re getting out of here. Have fun!”
“He's keen, anyway." Max followed her, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder as they made it to the door.
“Ace says if you're going to do a thing, you might as well go all-out” she called back.
That explains a lot, Max thought, wincing slightly at the memory of today's session.
Max paused on the threshold, and looked back to the dance floor, where Ace was completely losing his shit to ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’.
Chapter 7: Better Not Look Down
Fury resolves to return the favour.
It’s B.B. King! Hey B.B.
Once they were comfortably settled and supplied with coffee, she paused, weighing all the things she could say...then finally opted for
It’s shorter and less melodramatic than ‘I know who you are, and I owe you more than you can even imagine’.
How had she known it was him? The voice, sure. The left hand, with the wedding ring and that nasty looking scar.
And he seemed to remember her. There had been a flicker of recognition during their session. Big Dave said he looked disappointed that it would be Ace, and not her, taking his second session. Ace said he'd been a right grumpy git throughout.
And ‘Rockatansky’. The name was unusual enough to stick in the memory. Hadn’t there been some story in the papers about a hit and run, something tragic, anyway? An internet search confirmed it. Woman and child killed; the husband, a cop, survived. Poor guy.
And yet, not long afterwards, he’d helped her. Set her back on track.
And he was here now.
It was awkward because, once she’d got her head straight again, she’d kind of hoped their paths would cross. Not just to say thanks – no, she’d wanted to do that from the very beginning – no, it was that she had maybe taken to thinking about him. Maybe even fantasising…just a little bit.
And he was here now.
But now she knew. He wasn’t a brooding hero who’d showed up in her hour of need. Or even a guy who looked good in a uniform. No, he was someone who’d lost his family. Someone real. She didn’t know how to help him – not yet anyway – but she fully intended to try.
This was where Fury’s head was at as she described how she’d reconnected with her family.
She talked of how Ace had done his usual trick of getting her to eat properly by showing up with food and refusing to leave til she’d had it. And when he said a cop had brought something she’d lost, well…that was putting it mildly.
Max pointed towards the door with an enquiring lift of the eyebrows.
She nodded “Oh, yeah, that was Ace, back when he still had hair. Old uni friend.”
Being fairly certain that Max had been the guy who’d watched from the café, she skipped the actual reunion part. He didn’t ask, so that was as good as a confirmation.
“I moved in with Val and the rest of the clan. Just in time, too. I'd missed a rent payment…I'd have been kicked out before long anyway. Kept my part time job on for a while, though I didn't need the money so badly anymore. Just for something to do, you know?
“After graduation, I got a trainee physio post in the city. Ace helped a lot...he was a couple of years above me on my course...and I'm locuming...is that a word?...I'm a locum, filling in at clinics. Not exactly a stable job, but it suits me."
She looked across the table at him. “That’s why I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to thank you.” She didn’t ask ‘so where have you been?’ but she did hold his gaze in a manner that might be called searching.
He mumbled something like ‘No need’, shifted in his seat and finally said “I’ve been away. Needed a bit of a change.”
Seeing her nod, he added, with a hint of accusation. “And you know why, don’t you?” She didn’t take it personally. When you prodded someone’s wound, you shouldn’t expect them to thank you for it.
“I’m sorry. Your name sounded familiar. I remembered the story in the papers back then…”
He winced a little. It was then Fury realised he hadn’t intended to give his name at all.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you’d rather not” she added hurriedly, afraid of scaring him off completely. But he relented.
“No, it’s alright. I…I haven't done too well, that’s all" he replied, his mouth quirking into a bitter half-smile. "Got kind of lost in my own head last few years. Quit the job, been wandering since."
He shook his head. "Couldn't carry on with the job after the trial. Didn't seem any point. I couldn’t touch the person responsible...really responsible. Just the easy target. No comeback for the people at the top, there never is. So...I just kind of gave up."
"No revenge spree for you either, then?” she asked, leaning her chin on her hand. Remembering what she'd said to him so long ago.
"That stuff just happens in the movies" he grimaced. "I wouldn't know where to start either."
“How'd you do it?" he asked, a few moments later. "Get yourself together like this?”
She made a reluctant face. “Well…having friends around helped a lot” she nodded in acknowledgment of his part in that “…but I had to make a lot of changes. I stopped listening to maudlin music for a start. You’ve had an insight into that already. I realised I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for 'The Drugs don't Work'.”
Max huffed a laugh. "And you're still living with Val and the rest?"
She looked down at the table and paused. She’d been dreading this. "That was one of the reasons I was glad to find them again when I did. Six months after...Val and Maddie had a bike accident. Accident..." she repeated bitterly.
"They were on the motorway, heading into the city, when their bike skidded...they were hit by a car. Not just any car...it was the CEO of GAStown in his limo...I heard the driver could have missed them easily if he'd tried...but it looked like they swerved towards them..." She shuddered. "But they weren't even charged. They blamed it on an oil slick in the road.”
“But..." She took a deep breath, trying to centre herself, "I'm just glad to have had them back again, just for a while."
She noticed his hands were clenched, shaking. She reached out for them and looked up at him. He was pale. "Max...?"
He blinked and roused himself from whatever images were playing in his mind.
“So where are you staying?" she asked, to change the subject.
“Guy runs the garage. Sid. Staying at his. He’s a good guy. It was him recommended you. Your clinic, anyway.”
“Yeah. Everyone knows Sid." Furiosa shook her head at the idea of Sid and Max having a conversation. That would be worth seeing.
The coffee ended with Fury scribbling her number on a napkin. "Call me" she said, simply.
“I don't have a phone" he said, hesitantly. He didn’t want it to sound like a put-off. "Really. I don't."
“Well, get one. Even Althea's got one and she's an old hippy."
“Okay. But I could call you from a payphone..."
“What if I want to call you?” she laughed. “I bet her old one’s still knocking around. I'll drop it round at Sid’s, okay?”
And with that settled, they were gently but firmly ushered out the door by a tired-looking woman. Even late-night cafes have to close sometime.
In lieu of an early-morning café to receive them, Max walked Fury to her door, all of ten steps away, then wandered to Sid’s place in a sleepy daze.
This was the most conversation he'd had in years. Talking to Sid wasn't exactly conversation, as such. He rattled away like words cost nothing, and Max usually just listened in a mixture of interest, amusement and mild envy at his ease. You could kind of tune in and out.
But Fury absorbed his attention and he had to respond, he couldn't help it. It was strangely restful. Bit of a paradox, but hey.
Maybe it was the satisfaction of a goal accomplished. He'd been compelled to find her, and finally he had. Did that mean he could leave now?
Decide in the morning…
Chapter 8: Insomnia
Max STILL hasn’t left town yet. It’s tough to adjust to the stationary life, but it’s nice to have a friend. Just good friends, shooting the shit and hanging out. Nothing to see here.
He's been in town for almost two months now. Between the knackered leg and the knackered car, he hadn't had much choice at first.
And when he recognised who it was, this woman treating his knee, well… then he had to stick around and speak to her. See how she was, really. How things had panned out for her. And when they’d met, properly, well…they got on. It was nice. He COULD go now, there was nothing stopping him. The car was fixed. His damned knee wasn’t even hurting anymore.
But now it was all ‘just another week, no need to leave yet’. And so, the place, the people, the life was, in a creeping insidious way, getting under his skin, becoming familiar. People weren't giving him funny looks anymore. He'd tried to be understanding about that – he HAD looked like he'd just come down from the mountains.
But, staring at the ceiling, Max knew THIS was the price he’d have to pay.
While he kept moving, he didn't have to think. Deciding on the road to take, finding work, constantly getting used to unfamiliar surroundings. Come nightfall, he'd usually be exhausted enough to get a few hours of untroubled sleep.
The days were fine. He'd work in Sid's garage and go for walks round town in his free time. He'd go to the gym, some gentle bike work to start with. He’d meet up with Fury pretty often, sometimes by appointment, sometimes by accident. It was a small town, after all. She was back working with Ace most days, with the occasional job in the city.
The daytime was never much of a problem. But at night, on his bunk in the garage annex, without the comfortable exhaustion he'd come to rely on...he had nothing to do but think.
Fury was easy to talk to. She didn’t ask uncomfortable questions, because she already knew the score, what was up with him.
At first they'd just hang out in her office when she didn't have any appointments. Free consultation, she said. Mates’ rates. But his knee didn’t get bothered overmuch. As time went on, they Just sat eating cookies and talking about whatever was uppermost in their thoughts at the time. For example…
“So...Fury. That short for something?” he'd asked.
She grinned. "Not quite...it's nothing like the name on my birth certificate, anyway.
Max was all ears.
“My mother, in a temporary lapse of judgement - baby brain? - she named me Erinnys. Which is the collective Greek name for the Furies. She was a Classics student, you see. It could have been a lot worse. She could’ve actually picked one of them. Megaera, Tisiphone, Allecto? Awful thought, especially at 3am.”
"Erinnys...sounds nice. Unique."
"It's a pain in the arse, that's what it is. Nobody can pronounce it, let alone spell it. Even mum accepted that it'd been a bad move."
"So now you're Fury..."
“I've always been Fury. Except to the bank manager and the taxman. Then I'm just pissed off. Hah.”
“That’s terrible” he groaned.
"That was one of the things Val and I had in common, you see. Her mum called her Brynhildr for less academic reasons. She just loved comic books. Another name that's tricky to spell – though Valkyrie is no picnic either when you're five."
And they’d have discussions about stupid stuff. Like, what's your favourite hallowe'en costume? “Werewolf”, he'd replied, without hesitation. Fury, on the other hand, tended to just throw different things together. She'd been ‘The Aphid’ one year, kind of a vampiric Poison Ivy. The next, ‘Tank Kitty’ - half-cat, half-Tank Girl.
Fury now knew that Max had been freaked out as a child by the Kia-Ora ad, the one with the crows singing ‘I'll be your dog…’ She didn't know that one – it was probably before her time - besides, Katie told her tv was mind control. But after looking it up on YouTube, she agreed, yes THAT was just fucking creepy.
Ace and Dave would listen in, through the door to the reception. Ace said he was finding out more about Fury in a few weeks than she'd told him in nine years.
When Fury realised Ace was earwigging, she'd loudly abuse him to Max, and the whole conversation would descend into jibes and banter.
Then they would retire to the café for a bit of peace and quiet when Ace’s ribbing got too much. Max suggested, with remarkable insight, that Ace just wanted the place to himself so he could chat up Dave in privacy.
After a while they figured there was only so much coffee a person could drink, so they decided to go further afield. There was a park nearby. It was still pretty warm out. What more reasons do you need?
All the benches were taken so they took up camp beneath a spreading sycamore tree. There would probably be ants, but they didn't care. The wind had picked up since they left the cafe, so they lay out flat on the ground and let it whistle over them as the sun beat down and made lacework shadows on the grass.
Fury had noticed Max seemed to be a bit out of sorts lately. He'd been looking a bit grey-faced. Dark circles under the eyes, that sort of thing.
“You been burning the midnight oil? Look like you could do with an early night or several."
"Don't sleep so well..." he mumbled.
"Take anything for it?"
"Don't like to...it feels like a slippery slope, pills." Max turned his head to look at her. "So, tell me. I’m curious. What was this place like? Where you grew up?"
So Fury told about the community. The orchards and livestock, the classes they'd taken as kids, the garages she'd worked in. Getting an idea, she spoke more softly and avoided anything particularly exciting, just to see...and yes, it had worked. He was spark out and snoring quietly.
She smiled to herself. Good job it was deliberate, otherwise she'd be concerned about her conversational skills.
He shifted in his sleep and grunted quietly. Probably because his head was now resting on a gnarly tree root. She unwound her black scarf from her neck, gently lifted his head and tucked it underneath as a pillow.
She figured he'd be out for a while, so she fished her book out of her bag and got comfortable. But it was hard to concentrate on the pages when the sky was in her sights.
After a while, she felt someone nudging her leg with their shoe. "Hey Fury. This is all very idyllic and pastoral. You practicing for when you head off in your peace van?"
"Shh. Don't wake him. I’m just watching the clouds. They're going so fast, look."
Ace glanced up at the sky to satisfy her, but he was always more interested in people. He nodded toward Max, who was still snoring quietly.
“He's cute when he's asleep. You definitely don't think I've got a chance?" he raised a teasing eyebrow at Fury. She ignored the question and simply replied,
"What can I say, my conversation's a potent insomnia cure."
"Yeah you have that effect on me, too." Ace faked a yawn, which immediately turned into a genuine one.
"Fuck off" she chuckled, and flailed at his knee.
“Well, I'll leave you and sleeping beauty in peace. Catch you later."
She was roused from her book by muffled mutterings and the occasional violent twitch at her side. Max was dreaming, and the furrows in his brow suggested it wasn't the pleasant kind.
Fury hesitantly reached out her hand and gently pushed at his shoulder with a 'Shhh...’ trying to soothe him without waking him up. His eyes flickered and his expression turned from sleeping distress to painful confusion.
“Jess?" he mumbled.
“No, Max...it's Fury" she whispered, apologetically. But he didn't wake, merely took a deep breath into his makeshift pillow and relaxed into sleep again.
Fury lay and watched the speeding clouds, with her book open on her stomach. The restfulness must have been enough to counteract the myriad thoughts buzzing in her brain. When she opened her eyes again, the sun was dipping behind the trees.
Ow. This alfresco siesta idea was all very nice in theory, but if this was how stiff she felt after nodding off for a bit, then Max would be walking like a geriatric.
She got stuck into her book again. Two pages in, she glanced over at him. He was awake and gazing up at her, blinking owlishly.
"Hey, you're back" she smiled.
He'd been trying to see the cover of her book. "What you reading?"
"The Chrysalids" she replied. "You know it?"
He shook his head and winced a little at the crick he'd unsurprisingly developed over the last two hours.
"There’s been a nuclear war and people are trying to eradicate all mutants. Bunch of telepathic kids on the run because they'll be killed or sterilised. Crazy stuff.”
He yawned hugely and sat up. "That’s the end of the world for you...ugh, I've dribbled on your scarf."
Here’s Insomnia by Faithless
The working title for this was ‘Parklife’, but it’s a bit too jaunty for the purpose https://youtu.be/YSuHrTfcikU
Ace had definitely needed a good night out. He’d been nursing a broken heart, after all. His and Brick’s relationship had pretty much flatlined while they were on holiday. Their trip to Vietnam had been a Make or Break. They broke.
Brick’s a stuntman, you see. That's the problem. Ace simply cannot deal with being in a relationship with someone who recklessly endangers life and limb on a daily basis. It'd be different if he was a fireman or coastguard or something. Trying to save people. But risking yourself just for other people's entertainment just seems frivolous and stupid.
Ace had tried to delicately hint as much now and again, leaving out the ‘frivolous and stupid’ bit. But the final straw came when Brick agreed to take a big movie job. Some stupid thing in the desert, where he'd spend his time crashing cars and getting blown up.
They had a huge argument, involving the words frivolous and stupid in large quantities. Also paranoid, uptight and finally GOODBYE.
Unfortunately they had to come home on the same flight.
So it was a downbeat Ace who had trudged into the shiny new Valley Physio that summer morning.
Fury ignored the glum look and greeted him brightly. “Ace, let me introduce you to our new receptionist! Dave, Ace. Ace, Dave.” Then immediately left them to get acquainted.
Ace’s first impressions? ‘Oh my’ and ‘nnnnnggh’.
Before him stood (stooped) a haystack of a man, with a full beard and long thick hair. Leather jacket on the hook. Motorbike parked outside.
Ace had started losing his sandy hair at twenty one, and had never been able to grow a beard that would satisfy anyone's definition. He liked men with hair, the more the better. Thank you Fury, he thought.
Then he wondered if that sort of recruitment procedure could be grounds for a tribunal. He also really hoped she'd done her homework.
Ace was what might be called a flash prick. He wore sunglasses indoors. He drove a shiny red MG. His shirts were expensive and his shoes immaculate.
His parents were both of renowned medical dynasties, his father an orthopaedic surgeon and his mother a consultant dermatologist. Safe to say, they'd been a tad disappointed when their only child had opted to study physiotherapy instead of following the illustrious family tradition of proper medicine.
The day he'd told them he was gay was a picnic by comparison. It had helped they'd often seen him out and about in company with a young shaven-headed woman with one arm and a don’t fuck with me demeanour.
They’d jumped to conclusions, at least his mother had. From then on, she had more or less assumed her son was part of this LGBT community she'd been hearing about, and hadn't been all that surprised when he came out.
In contrast, father actually looked relieved when Ace broke the news. He admitted later that anything was better than the idea of Fury as a daughter-in-law. She clearly scared the hell out of him. But that was a long time ago; she’d mellowed since then.
Ace suppressed a smile at the memory. He wondered if his dad would think Dave was an improvement.
“Dave, great to meet you. Let me take you for a coffee…”
Ace saw Fury smile and shake her head.
Ace met Fury at City Uni. He was a third year undergrad in Physiotherapy. She was a fresher on the same course. He was the mentor, she the mentee.
He wasn't doing it to be altruistic. He'd got in a bit of trouble with late assignments and was trying to suck up to his year tutor who'd taken him to task for his cavalier attitude.
So he'd volunteered to mentor new students. Ironic, isn't it? You'd think he'd be the last person they'd want to be advising green kids fresh from school…but logic rarely features heavily in university decision-making.
Ace didn't really know much about Fury. He knew she kept herself to herself, not quite reclusive, but solitary. She didn't live with her fellow students, didn't go out with them.
She was the most driven person Ace had ever met. Even when she went running, she'd be listening to audio lectures. And she had a research job on the side. Pepe Nunez had taken her on as an assistant in his prosthetics lab.
Maybe it was because she wasn't exactly flush. But then, a lot of his friends’ oldies were a bit remiss when it came to topping up their offspring’s accounts every month.
So, in the end, it seemed like Ace was the one who came off best in the mentor/mentee relationship. He might not have passed at all but for the wordless reminder that he should stop just pissing his time away.
In return for this, he tried to sub her now and then. But she was having none of it, stubborn cow. At best, he'd get the drinks in at the social events he managed to drag her to, and she eventually accepted that it was easier to let him settle the lunch bill. It just saved time. He could be stubborn too.
Ace was glad when, halfway through her first year, she'd come to him with the news that she'd been awarded a bursary. Which was weird, because his mum was tight with the Chancellor and, when Ace had been bugging her about pulling strings to get one for Fury, she'd said there weren’t going to be any that year.
But, great, as long as the money came in…it'd keep her in beer tokens for a while, anyway.
He’d expected to lose touch with Fury after her graduation ceremony. She’d never been the sort to go out of her way to seek company and moving out to a satellite town would mean their paths were unlikely to cross much by chance.
But she’d really come out of her shell since then. He’d been glad – surprised, but glad – when she called him to say she’d met some old friends and would be moving in with them. Fury, who’d never shared her space with anyone as long as he’d known her.
She looked really happy, so he was happy for her, simple as that. He’d miss his mate, but he was a big boy, he’d make new ones. They’d kept in touch though, and Fury invited him to her new place. Nice little town, Valley Haven. He’d never had any reason to go there before. Nothing special, just a couple of streets, but it had a nice vibe. Also, her friends were hilarious; the old one in particular killed him.
But that thought sobered him. It was awful what happened to Val and Maddie. He didn’t ride, himself, only pillion when he could get the chance, but he knew how dangerous it could be. That was why Fury hated having to borrow Al’s bike to travel to the city. She was always frazzled and on edge after a day away.
But Ace hoped she wouldn’t have to locum out of town much longer. He’d had the accountant go over over the books, and he could definitely afford to take on a full-time physio. The client list was growing and there was more than enough work for two. A local job would probably be music to the ears of a home bird who hated commuting. He wasn’t being entirely altruistic either. She was good at her job, and would be snapped up elsewhere if he didn’t get in first.
Yeah, he’d need to soften her up a bit first...before moving on to personal matters. But Fury knew the score. Either of them had full license to pull the other up if they thought they were going wrong. And Ace was officially concerned.
They were so very different, that’s probably why they got on well at uni. The same applied in the grown up world, only they’d reversed their roles somewhat. Ace was on the lookout for The One, Mr Right. Fury was just looking for a bit of fun, nothing serious. Probably a hangover from their younger days – Ace had left his irresponsible youth behind and wanted to settle down. Fury clearly needed to cut loose a little. They they looked out for each other, gave advice – whether wanted or not – and said ‘I told you so’ when the opportunity presented.
So when Fury left the Grapes with a good looking guy that night, Ace thought nothing of it. She could kick Ace’s ass in the gym so he didn’t much worry about her safety. And the guy was a client so they had his name. Ace wasn’t bowled over by his social skills but he could see why Fury was interested.
When he’d quizzed her next day she’d said ‘no, nothing had happened, they were going to meet up again but it’s not like that’. Okay, fair enough, the chemistry’s not there. Maybe Ace might fare better? he’d quipped, only half joking.
But there clearly WAS a spark there. He knew her well enough to recognise the signs. More than that; if Ace knew anything, she was on a fair way to getting attached.
Hadn’t he just seen them camped out together in the park? Granted, there was a good foot or more between them, but still.
But while Ace’s soppy heart had thrilled when Fury told him that Max was actually the cop that had given her the Mothers’ address, his head had gone ‘uh-oh’.
Ace rolled his eyes. Fury did not make things easy for herself. Falling for an ex-cop drifter with a beard that sparrows could nest in? Dave’s beard was a look. Max’s just said ‘I gave up on myself some time ago’.
This guy had ‘flaky and moving on any minute’ stamped all over him. Even if it was purely platonic – and Fury thought he was hot, she’d admitted that much – she’d still get hurt.
It’s no good. No matter what way you looked at it, he’d have to say something.
Ace of Aces, The Fearless Flyers
Chapter 10: Mr Pitiful
Moving on. Any minute now.
“I'm just saying, don't get attached.”
"Ace, he’s not a stray cat.” Fury replied, vigorously polishing a chrome wing mirror .
"Well...I'm just saying, he might up and leave any minute."
"So might anyone. So might you."
"I've got ties. A life here. This guy's kipping on his friend's sofa and lives out of a bag. If he even has a bag.”
Phyllis chipped in at this point from the kibble bag corner. "Sometimes stray cats can be damn hard to get rid of. I don’t even like the bloody things..."
"But they like you, clearly. Don’t they, puddins?" said Ace, stooping to pet Perfidia, a tortoiseshell with a black patch at the corner of her mouth that made her look like she was grinning on one side of her face. She received his caresses ecstatically. Then, realising food was in the offing, she yowled, clawed at him and bolted for her food dish.
“Mad cat" Phyllis muttered. "Shoulda drowned her."
"Don't give me that. How you took on when Tubby went missing. You didn’t sleep right for a week. Don't think I didn't notice." Althea pointed out, as the older women went back into the house together.
Fury got back to the point. "Look, I won't get attached. You know me. I’m not like YOU. Besides, that would be crazy."
"You are crazy. But why in particular?" Ace rubbed mournfully at his scratched hand.
Fury checked they were alone and beckoned him closer. "Promise you won't breathe even half an idea you know this?"
“He lost his wife and baby son about six years back. Bad car collision. That's what wrecked his knee."
Ace sighed "Shit..."
"But he doesn't TELL people. So you can't show that you know."
"He told you, though. You're not people, clearly."
“It's because I was such a mess back when we met first. About mum, everything. He helped me. I want to help him.”
"You're his bereavement buddy."
"Ouch. Bluntly put, but yes. So that's why I won't get attached. Just friends, got it?”
"Good, 'cos men are useless bastards."
“Ace..." she looked at him reprovingly.
“I should know. Plus, I am one."
"Oh, you won't be saying that for long. Besides, women can be mean too." She gave him a sympathetic pat. Poor old Ace. So he was still missing his stuntman. She wasn't too worried for him though, not since there was an undoubted twinkle between him and Big Dave.
"Yeah, really mean. You're a prime example" Ace hugged Fury about the shoulders. “Okay, I'll cut your man a bit of slack. A backstory like that covers a lot of eccentricities.” He headed for the door, adding as an afterthought “Though he still needs to sort that facial fuzz out. There's beards and then there's beards."
Fury reached up to close the garage door and saw Max crossing the street towards the house. Ace stepped aside at the gate and ushered Max through with a flourish and a nod. He waved back to Fury, with a "Thanks!” Another nod to Max, and away.
“You too" Fury called back. She greeted Max with what she felt was perhaps a too-bright smile.
"Hey. Is he alright?” he asked, pointing over his shoulder with a quizzical look. “Seems unusual.”
Fury tried to shake Ace’s cautionary words from her mind. And the mild guilt of having told him Max’s secret. She waved a hand dismissively “Oh, he’s fine. I was just trying to convince him that not all men are bastards."
Well at least that’s honest, she thought.
But Max’s attention was occupied by the sight before him, through the half-closed garage door.
“Oh wow. She’s a beauty.”
Ah. That was exactly what Val had said when they’d first seen it. She should just sell the damn thing and be done. It only reminded her of how things would’ve been if Val hadn’t been killed. The Rig would’ve clocked up some serious mileage by now. But she slid the door open fully.
“Max, meet the War Rig. My shiny chrome baby.”
The War Rig. Not an obvious name for a grass-green VW camper. Fury bet he couldn’t guess where the name came from, and Max bet he couldn’t either. It took an unsubtle nod towards the registration plate before he caught on. W4R R19. Heh.
But he was uneasy for the rest of the day. It was only later, while he studied the pattern in the ceiling that night, that he realised what it was that was bothering him.
Max could think of three types of people who owned a VW camper. Surfers. People advertising their business in a trying-to-be-trendy way. Wannabe travellers planning to chase the horizon. ‘That thing YOU used to do’, an inner voice sneered. ‘Remember that?’
Fury didn't surf, as far as he knew. The Rig seemed to be free of ads for Ace's clinic. That left only the third category. He recalled what she’d said months ago. ‘It’s not a stable job, but it suits me’. He lay awake wondering when she would go.
Some days later, they're round at Sid’s place, looking over Max’s car. He’d seen hers, after all, so it was only fair. He was giving her a tune-up, nothing too major, but it’d be nice to see under the bonnet.
Lifting down a box from a high shelf, Fury spied the garage annexe through a grimy window. There was a fold-down camp bed with a some bedding piled on it.
“Maaaax…I thought you said you were kipping on Sid’s sofa…this does not look comfortable” she pointed out, reproachfully.
“It's kinda like a sofa…”
“Hmm. You know there's an attic flat back home. Phyl and Al would be glad to let it to you cheap.” She raised an eyebrow deprecatingly at him. “You'd like it. It's almost as tiny and uncomfortable as in here. But you'd have an actual bed.”
Max almost look like he was considering it. For about two seconds. Then he shook his head. “I'm alright here. Besides, it’s handy for work.” He gave her that look – the one that made her let him get away with anything, even stubborn dumbass logic. She just shook her head and muttered “Martyr!”
“So you've been travelling in this for five years? Sleeping in it too, I bet.” He looked sheepishly at her. That’s a yes then. “I’m surprised you’re not having back pain. Not got a lot of room to stretch out, but I suppose when it's just yourself…” she broke off awkwardly and tried to cover up her embarrassment. “I mean...something like the Rig'd have more space…”
Fury was acutely aware of Max’s silence. Oh, what a stupid thing to say. She advanced towards him, where he stood silently with his back to her, put her hand on his arm. “Max, I’m really sorry. That was thoughtless.” He looked round at her, face red. She knew she’d been getting over-familiar lately. It was only a matter of time before she said something clumsy.
“Don't – don’t pity me…I don't want pity, not from you. I mean… I don’t want to be your project.” He turned away and took a deep breath. “Shit. That didn’t come out right.”
Fury frowned. “Hey. Am I YOUR project? No? I want to help you…like you've helped me.”
“You have helped…you are helping” he turned back to her with a earnest look.
“No projects.” Fury gently gripped the back of his head and rested her forehead against his for a few seconds. “You fool...”
Max was seriously shaken up. There he’d been, lost in an idle daydream. Cruising about the country with Fury in the War Rig. Having room to stretch out. Back rubs as a distant possibility.
And then he realised why she’d come over to him looking so pained and apologetic. She thought she’d upset him. And why? Because she’d just reminded a broken-down widower of his loss.
Little did she know, he hadn’t been thinking of them at all. He’d been thinking about her. What the fuck was wrong with him? He wouldn’t have her know for the world.
Later on, he had time to rationalise. He wasn’t a callous bastard. But he should pack away any ideas about Fury. Too soon for anything like that. He’d no reason to think she was interested anyway.
That night, Max tried to distract himself by playing a bit of music off the mobile phone Fury had given him. He’d been relying on the old CDs in his car for too long, he’d got tired of them ages ago. Besides, it was a bastard for running down the battery.
So he was trying out this app that was installed already. Get with the times. He tried out some of the disco and funk tunes Fury was so fond of, but he wasn’t in the right mood for that. So he went to what he knew. Motown.
Pretty good. Some tracks he knew, some he didn’t. It always struck him as funny how they could put such miserable lyrics to such catchy tunes. Landslide, Ninety Six Tears, Big Easy.
Some that made him remember, and others that made him forget himself entirely. And there were the even ones that made his heart leap, thinking dangerously of…well, never mind. Save. Save. Save.
And then - goddammit - he knew this one, but hadn’t heard it in years. Talk about cutting close to the bone.
‘They call me Mr. Pitiful. Baby thats my name now, oh. They call me Mr. Pitiful. That's how I got my fame…’
He looked at his hand, his wedding ring. But was it any surprise? He looked at it for a long time, then took it off and carefully linked it to his keychain. He didn’t want this to define him anymore. He wanted to move on. That was okay; it would always be close to him.
Ten minutes later it was back on his finger. To think, for a moment, he’d thought she was going to kiss him. What a fool.
Chapter 11: The Payback
And in other news ...
Local News Tonight with Greg Geoffries!
“His reputation has earned him the tag of 'Warlord'. Joe Moore, the major shareholder of Perpetuo Industries was been put under house arrest today, charged with several counts of fraud and money laundering. The Crown Prosecutor has also announced charges of human trafficking and extortion.”
Althea looked up from her knitting and called out “Phyl! News is on!”
The PERPETUO logo appeared on the green screen next to the anchorman, alongside the slogan ‘We Have The Power’…
Phyllis hurried in with two mugs of tea. “The muffins are just out, they need to cool a bit…”
“Ssh! It’s the Gasshole. I want to see that slippery bastard try and dodge the microphones this time.”
“Now we go to our business correspondent Debbie Lyle at GASTown, one of Perpetuo’s subsidiaries. Debbie, the CEO of GASTown, who himself has been implicated in…”
Phyllis turned the volume down as footsteps sounded on the stairs and Fury came hurrying into the living room.
“Is that the news?” she asked, distractedly.
“I thought you’d be gone by now” Phyllis replied, casually changing the channel to a random game show. “Yeah. Looks like our favourite billionaire is in the clink, or soon will be, with any luck.”
“So I heard. Hmph. I’ll believe it when I see it. Did you see where I left my gym bag?”
“I put in by the front door. I kept tripping over it.”
“You’re great.” Fury kissed her friends in turn. “And I’m late.”
Just at that moment, Althea’s phone pinged a text.
Once she’d gone, Althea checked her phone. “That’s Capable. She’s asking if we’ve seen the news. You coming?”
“Wait, I’ll bring those muffins.”
They went downstairs to the basement flat.
The Payback, James Brown
Chapter 12: Teenage Kicks
"Your body has to be ready for the fights and your mind for the head games"
She'd heard someone say that once. He was talking about prison, but Fury thought it could just as easily be applied to school.
Fury and her mother moved from the Green Place to the city when she was fourteen. She had some trouble with the other kids, who labelled her as a freak when they saw her missing arm - she didn't have the prosthetic back then. And she had a weird name that nobody could pronounce, although she helped them out of this difficulty by only answering to ‘Fury’. However her choice of moniker was considered equally weird and also provocative.
Things didn't get any better when word got out that she'd come from a hippy lesbian biker cult out in Woop Woop. It was only when she'd broken her third nose that the staff began to take notice. She was pulled into the principal’s office and threatened with suspension for violent behaviour.
Her mother calmly asked the principal what the papers would say about the institutional bullying of disabled students in his school. The fact that she'd come off best in every altercation despite being outnumbered and missing an arm was let alone. It was a low blow, but you've got to take every advantage you can. That was the idea when she elbowed Gareth in the kidneys, anyway.
Her mum was all for moving back home, but Fury said no, she wasn't going to let a bunch of arseholes be the reason for going back. Mothers knew, she wanted to though. She had no friends here, and it was all so painfully different to what she was used to. But it was interesting, school. And once she discovered the Blackthumbs, things picked up some. She did love tinkering with engines.
And she joined a club where they taught mixed martial arts. Which, as it turned out, was basically what Katie Concannon taught kids in her front yard. Though Katie didn't call it that. She called it 'taking the bastards down as are looking for it', or variations. Quite an angry woman was Katie, but she was a good teacher and meant well. ‘Don't start it, but know how to finish it’ was her maxim.
She was actually quite enjoying life. As much as a kid who'd just turned fifteen would allow herself to admit, anyway. Maybe she didn't realise it at the time - she definitely didn't realise it at the time - but, with the benefit of hindsight, it had been pretty perfect.
She hated her hair and her height and sometimes wished she was like the girls in her class who didn’t get picked on. But then again, she really didn’t. Because she was having a much more interesting time than they seemed to be.
Her mum seemed to be enjoying her new life. She'd completed her unfinished degree in classics and had got a job in the library archive. She got on well with her colleagues and had plenty of tales to tell every evening. Usually about the heavily tattooed librarian Tabitha Giddy.
Mary remembered her from her earlier student days, well before Fury graced the world with her presence.
Whenever Fury would try to quiz her mum about those days, she would get very cagey. All she could glean was that she had had a brief relationship with a fellow arts student who'd fallen into the wrong company.
The day Mary found out she was pregnant, Zal was arrested for robbery. He sent her a note via a friend to say that he was sorry and that he didn't want her to visit him. And that was that.
Eventually she admitted to her daughter that she never told Zal she was pregnant. Fury had never felt particularly bitter about her father's absence, because Mary had always assured her that he would have been around if he could. She knew he'd been in prison. But what she didn't know was that he wasn't actually aware of her existence.
Fury lived up to her name for days. Her mother bore it meekly, admitted that it hadn't been the best thing to do.
But Mary hadn't done it out of spite. Zal wanted to keep her at a distance for a particular reason. There was something going on - she was semi-convinced at the time that it was all an attempt to protect her from something. And was even more so now after the strange conversation she’d had with Tab Giddy last week.
He would be out in a few years, their paths would cross again.
She’d tried to keep an eye out for his release in the news, or from friends. She’d gone to the city to ask subtle questions to old connections of his.
Something told her that going through official channels to make enquiries might be a bad idea. If people were powerful enough, they would make use of any paper trail she left. She heard nothing. He’d simply disappeared.
There was no way he was still inside by now. Either he felt that he still needed to hide elsewhere, or he really didn’t give a rat’s ass about her at all. Neither option was fantastic to contemplate. They hadn’t been together long, but she had liked him.
Of course, most of this was purely speculation. She knew Fury was aware there was a lot she wasn't telling her. But Mary didn't want her girl to think her mum had lost it. It did sound pretty paranoid, when she took a step back.
They talked it out. Fury's anger flagged as soon as she heard her mum admit she'd probably been wrong. Within the hour they were friends again.
Mary Jabassa couldn’t have had a much happier last few weeks. A reconciliation, no more secrets, a relatively happy daughter, a promising future for both of them. Though, given the choice, she would’ve liked a bit of warning before her time was up.
Teenage Kicks, The Undertones
(Btw the quote in the summary is from The Secret Art of Stealing, Christopher Brookmyre)
Chapter 13: I’ve Got You Under My Skin
When Phyllis and Althea go to Wasteland Weekend, Fury gets an anxiety attack and invites Max round for a movie marathon as a much-needed distraction.
Fury turned away from the window. If they saw her watching them leave, they might change their minds and cancel, and she didn't want that. She'd worked hard enough to persuade them to go and she knew how much they were looking forward to it. Besides, she wasn't a child.
She hated that she felt like this, even after all these years. She was acting like some kind of abandoned puppy. But it felt like when she used to ride to the City every morning, only a million times worse. She couldn't shake the fear that she would never see them again. She felt sick, on the edge of tears. There was only one cure for this. No, not a cure, only a painkiller.
Fury changed into her gear, fully intending to run ‘til she was too tired to think about anything other than just keep moving.
She hardly knew where she was, just mindlessly following the old familiar route until, in the corner of her eye she saw a familiar shape. There was Max crouched next to a silver hatchback. Of course it was, this was Sid’s street. Seeing her slow down he gave her a hesitant wave. She slowed to a stop, leaning forward a little to catch enough breath to speak.
“Sorry, didn't want to stop you.” Max said “You looked like you were in the zone.”
Fury waved a hand dismissively. “I’ve got a stone in my shoe" she lied, shaking her foot. "What’s going on?”
“Just working” he waved a hand at the hatchback. “You? Apart from the obvious.”
“Well, Al and Phyl are off to Wasteland Weekend. Went off this morning. So I've got the run of the place. Good to get a bit of quiet really."
“Oh wow – are they in costume?" Max raised his eyebrows.
“Of course they are – you should see Phyl's hair. She's had it in training for weeks"
"There’d better be photos."
“They have their orders. I'll carry on, got a bit of a way to go. Call you later?"
He nodded and she went on her way, imaginary stone and all.
Like any analgesic, it would wear off after a while. But for now, she felt good as she showered, muscles so fatigued she could hardly wash her hair.
Lots of water, a couple of apples, some music to chase away the silence. All fine. But, as twilight fell, it became painfully apparent that no one was in the garden, no one was upstairs clattering about in the cupboards, and no one would come to the door with a bag of shopping and a long story about that bloody man in the hardware shop.
Fury hugged her knees and tried to stay calm. She turned on the tv and thought about dinner. She knew Ace was out with Big Dave. A proper date now, so a third would be highly inappropriate. She was not so pathetic as that.
Max. She said she'd call him
Okay. Great. Max is coming round. Time to prepare. She needs to get her head straight first. Time for the big guns.
Fury puts on her special ‘Aggressively Cheerful’ playlist.
It's kind of artificial. It's a bit like a drug. Addictive, you find yourself dependent after a while. But the comedown is minimal. There may not even be one, not really. It always drags her up a notch, and almost always has her shuffling rhythmically about, without even thinking about it. No bad thing, as long as there's nobody around to see. And what are the criteria? Any song that induces an urge to do a silly dance even when you're feeling really really shitty.
Ah, ‘Footloose’. It never fails. She knows all the words by now. It's all she can do to not to sing along. The flat might be empty but the girls are downstairs. Ah, who cares…
That's when the doorbell rings.
She is fucking exhausted. Can't do that and run twenty K in the same day…
Fury opened the door; a sight for sore eyes awaited her. Max, a bottle-o bag in one hand, two massive pizza boxes balanced on the other.
“Thought you'd be hungry…”
“Ohhh, you really know how to make friends.” She grabbed the boxes. “Come in, come in, kitchen’s this way.”
‘… Summer, Buddy Holly - the working folly; Good golly, Miss Molly and boats’
Fury just smiled in response to Max’s quizzical look. It was pizza time, dammit. No time to stand around chatting. “Remember that cheering-up music I was talking about? Well, that’s it. Come on, I’m starving.”
While Fury chucked out the pizza boxes, Max made his way towards the living room. Passing through the hall, he paused to look at a pair of framed pictures that caught his eye among the collection hanging there.
Above, two girls grinning mischievously, each with an arm around the other’s shoulder. The taller of the two had a mess of sandy curls, wore combat daks and a bright orange t-shirt. The other, in shorts and a huge Snoopy jumper, had long dark hair. Fury and Val. About twelve or thirteen?
Below hung a more up-to-date version, taken after the reunion. Fury was less thin than when he’d first seen her; her hair grown out very slightly from the tight cut she'd had. Val’s arm round her shoulder had a protective look now.
There were other framed photos hanging. A few more of a teenage Val with other kids about the same age. There were older women he didn't recognise. One frame had a wreath of wheat draped over it.
“What you looking at?” She was at his elbow.
“You look like holy terrors” the corner of his mouth dimpled into a smile as he pointed at the old photo.
“I've got a better one than that. C’mon.”
Before stepping away, she reached out and touched one of the frames, just for a second. One of the women Max hadn't met. Not to straighten it, or to pick off a cobweb...just a touch. Is that her mother? he wondered, following her into the living room.
Max had brought a couple of DVDs with him, borrowed from Sid, one of which is Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Fury called dibs on that one. She and Val had the soundtrack when they were kids, she said. Katie gave it to them, among others, when they got their first CD player of their very own, and Val played it constantly. Val's mum was furious because of all the swearing on it.
But Fury's never seen the actual film.
They used to make up games based on the soundtrack and excerpts. She always played Nick the Greek. Because of the Ancient Greek thing, obviously. Val, in contrast, picked a different character each time, although she liked being Harry the Hatchet best.
Of course, when they were younger, they played Marvel. This was Valkyrie's game; if Fury was in charge of the Greek myths, Val owned Marvel.
She'd braid her hair and brandish a huge wooden sword, but had refused point blank to let Fury tie two saucepan lids to her chest.
The photo wasn't very clear. A pre-digital action shot with a pink fuzz at the edge suggestive of a thumb. The same two girls, but younger. Seemed to be a pitched battle going on. Val wore a helmet, hair braided. Fury, in the foreground, in an eyepatch, held what looked like a tree branch on her shoulder...if he squinted, it could look like a huge gun. Nick Fury, of course.
Kids get to have all the fun.
The film was less violent than she'd imagined, but quite a bit funnier.
Max rummaged through Althea and Phyllis's DVD collection to see what else was on offer. Hmmm...'Grabbers'. Turning over to read the back…‘Idyllic remote Irish fishing village…enormous tentacled creatures…the one thing the creatures don’t like is alcohol...’
Well, what the hell, it says it’s a comedy.
And yes, there were tentacles. There was an old drunk dude called Paddy. There was a couple of Irish cops with obvious sexual tension trying to save the day. By getting the islanders incapably drunk thus rendering them unpalatable to vampire sea monsters.
What with the pizza, Max’s beers hadn’t lasted long. About an hour in, Fury got up suddenly and announced she was going to see what else they had in the house.
"Want me to pause it?" Max called after her.
"No, you're alright. I've seen it loads of times anyway."
While she was clattering about in the kitchen, Max watched the ‘conscientious’ Irish cop drunkenly sympathise with her ‘irresponsible’ sober colleague about the death of his wife. The fact that she’d been misinformed, the wife wasn't dead at all, had actually left him, was immaterial.
He wondered if the hunt for alcohol was just an excuse for Fury to get out of the room…nah, don’t read too much into things Max, you’ve done enough of that already.
And as the barman's wife danced with the priest, back she came in triumph. “Hey, look what I've found! Al's whisky stash!"
Max is about to demur, but just then the doctor got a tiny alien octopus stuck to his face. His attention was immediately reabsorbed. And, oh shit, here comes the big one! he thought, biting his knuckle, as Fury poured two glasses. Max took a taste from the proffered glass, and snorted as the drunk policewoman tried to read the giant vampire octopus it's rights.
All awkwardness was forgotten as the warm boozy feeling suffused through Max's system. He giggled helplessly as the barman ran out of the pub like Rambo with his Super Soaker slash flamethrower to annihilate the beast. God, is anything funnier than drunk people when you're maybe just a little bit drunk yourself?
"No, don't be a hero..."
When the characters ran out of drink and began to sober up, Max and Fury reached for their glasses in sympathy.
"Do you think they really got completely pissed to act this?" Fury asked, as the drunk policewoman fell down the stairs. "Right, take those little bastards out” she snarled. “Ow, ow, ow. Nail gun. Ow."
"Oh shit, giant octopus!" Max pointed at the screen. "Breathe on it, it'll leave you alone!"
"They can't hear you, it's not panto! Oh shit she's set the place on fire..."
The rest of the film was a bit of a fog, but they vaguely recollected a brief car chase and a midnight battle in a quarry involving a JCB. Someone shouting 'Come on you smelly bastard...'
Needless to say, it ended alright. Much rejoicing, triumphant music. Dead vampire octopus. But, but...nooo, as the cop guy got grabbed by a huge fucking tentacle. But it's okay, he's got a bottle in his pocket, pours it down the alien's throat. Sorted. The man and woman have a bit of a kiss. And it wraps up with the inevitable ‘you thought it was all over’ final scene, as the waves lap round alien eggs in the sand...oooooh noooo.
"Whaddyathink?" she asked.
Max turned to her with what he probably thought was a film-critic expression, but actually made made him look constipated. “Awfly far fetched. Terrible…stereo…stereotypes”
"It’s Althea’s. She’s got a whole pile of ‘em. Used to work in a publin. No. A Dub – a Dublin pub.”
They proceeded to drink a little bit more whisky in front of the Blues Brothers, which they’d both seen so many times they didn’t really need to pay attention.
It had never actually come up in conversation, and he'd never asked about it, but Max must have noticed her arm by now. She usually wore long sleeves since she'd been fitted with her first prosthetic. It's silly really, since it looks so real, but she's still conscious that it's not a part of her, even after all these years.
She's not quite sure why but, tonight, she's opted to wear a shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. It's time, she thinks.
It had actually been a few months before he was certain it wasn't her own flesh. It didn't look quite right, but it could have been a mild disfigurement. It moved a little more clumsily than her right hand. Likewise. It felt a little cold any time he’d ever touched it. It was only when he saw her adjust her harness one day that he knew for sure. Wow, he thought. That's impressive.
Now, here they are. Sozzled on whiskey, together on the sofa, inhibitions forgotten. What better chance would he get?
He reached out a hand, his eyes asking, ‘Can I?’ She nodded, biting her lip and smiling..
Max examined her arm, stroked the skin a few times; he looked closely and breathed on it, huffed a laugh as the little hairs moved in response to the stimulus. Fury watched him, amused and not a little aroused. She does not want him to stop what he's doing, but when he murmurs “That’s amazing…I’d no idea they could do that" she felt she had to put him straight.
“Max..." she whispered by his ear "this is my real arm. Prosthetic’s over there."
She pointed to where it lay on the sofa. He blinked at it for a second. He mustn’t remember her removing it. But he had nodded off more than once that evening.
He laughed like a rockslide and fell over sideways. "Hmm…s’a relief. I thought your Prof was some kinda…whatchacaller…Borg Queen or something…”
It was good to hear him laugh like that. Freer, less constrained than she'd ever seen him. And she was definitely feeling pretty relaxed by now.
There's something she really wants to do...
"Wanna show you something..."
Keeping her eyes on him, she slowly unbuttoned her shirt. She laughed, seeing Max's eyes widen.
"And let's get THIS back on..." she mumbled woozily, turning to reach for her arm.
He was watching her curiously now, clearly unsure what was happening here.
It took a bit longer than usual to fasten the straps and supports. She was very drunk, after all. And there we go...
She turned to face him, vaguely aware that the tight vest she had on was a very small one indeed. But all the better for what she had planned.
She flexed her arm, allowing him time to take in how it moved, now he knew for sure it wasn't flesh and bone.
“Are you ready to see this? Its gonna get a little bit weird.”
He nodded, unconsciously licking dry lips.
Fury slowly pulled the latex cover off her mechanical arm and dropped it to the floor like a shed snakeskin.
Max's jaw dropped.
"That's the most fucking…amazing thing I've ever seen" he slurred, blinking at the skin on the floor.
Delighted that he hadn't run off screaming, Fury lost her head slightly. She leaned forward and brushed her smiling lips clumsily against his cheek, aiming for the soft beardless patch just below his eye. Her eyes closed as she drew close, and made contact, swaying slightly. It was so soft, but...felt like lips. The moment was brief, they were both too pickled to do anything other than giggle.
Max slumped back onto the sofa with a defeated groan and lay on his side like someone who was not planning to move again 'til morning. He waved his arm at her with a plaintive noise.
The room was slowly spinning but, inebriated as she was, she fumbled with the fastenings of her naked metallic arm. It was one of the things she did on autopilot before she went to sleep, no matter how tired or spaced out. It fell the short distance to the floor with a clank and she nestled down next to him with a groan, her back pressed closely against his chest and his nose touching the nape of her neck.
He draped his arm over her waist and let out a contented sigh. His level breathing soothed the buzzing in her ears; she was asleep within seconds.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Frank Sinatra
The Cheerful Music agenda:
I'm probably pissing people off with this whole ‘listen to cheerful music, it'll make you feel better’ theory.
All I can say is, I remember feeling extremely shitty back in the dark days before music streaming and YouTube. When you had to rely on the radio and whatever tracks the studio saw fit to put in the inescapable album package. I’ll cite the very last Father Ted episode ‘Going to America’ as a case in point. Here’s a potted summary:
Reasons to be Cheerful, part three. Check out this brilliant video. Genius. Honestly.
Obscure film reference:
Unfortunately my favourite full-movie YouTube link for Grabbers has been deactivated. Booo. It’s a great film to get drunk to.
Highly realistic prosthetics:
Anyone remember the bit in Furiosa Incognita, when Furiosa duped Immortan Joe with the gift of the ‘head’ of the Rock Riders’ leader? The person who had created the latex head was an artist called Pepe, one of Zal and co’s occasional associates. I did say at the time that he would appear again in some universe or other. In this one, he’s a Professor specialising in hyper-realistic prosthetics. As his research assistant, it seemed only fair that Fury would get a prototype for her own use. Anyhoo.
Of course, Pepe Nunez is a Brookmyre character from The Sacred Art of Stealing, who faked his own death by means of latex-based trickery.
Chapter 14: My Poor Brain
The morning after the night before.
Fury experienced a few blissful moments in that warm cocoon of unknowing, uncaring wakening before the brain delivers its unwelcome debrief. She lay on her side, a warm solid breathing body at her back that felt and smelled like Max. A hand draped over her. She examined it drowsily. Mm, yep that's his hand. Fury intertwined her fingers with his. Warm…there’s something’s missing, she can't figure out what.
Then she began to take stock of the situation. Phyllis and Althea's couch. Home. Okay. But there was a definite atmosphere of stale alcohol fumes, and Max was not a usual fixture. Fury’s eyes flickered downwards to check her state of undress. Nothing to indicate they'd done anything to regret. At least nothing to regret not remembering. Her shirt lay discarded on the floor by her prosthetic and the inside-out latex skin.
Oh. Ohgod, it was coming back. She'd done the Terminator party trick. But he was still here and there were no signs of him having thrown up, so it mustn't have been received too badly. Though her stomach warned her that her own situation might not stay that way for much longer.
She groaned silently as her one as yet open eye focused on the empty bottles. This would explain a lot.
She heard the garage door slam shut. Someone was here. It’d probably been the sound of a car pulling up that woke her. Voices, one loud and complaining, the other slightly more muted but still not particularly contented. Oh shit, she thought as she sat up carefully. They're back early...she'll never hear the end of this.
"Max..." she tapped the back of his hand gently. No response but a slight shift and a grunt. "MAX!" she hissed more urgently, shaking him by the shoulder. "Time to wake up. We got company".
Max sat bolt upright just as the door opened and two women walked in. Several aspects of this scenario were worrying. Fury hurriedly buttoning her shirt, muttering shit, shit, shit under her breath. The many empty bottles lying about including, he was dismayed to see, an 18 year old Bushmills. And, as he attempted to focus on the new arrivals, he saw they were dishevelled, irritated and carrying alarming weaponry.
"God, Fury, how old are you, anyway? Can't we leave for ten minutes without you sneaking your boyfriend in?" one snapped crossly, as she dumped her rucksack on the floor.
"Shut up, Al" the other sat down with a sigh. "And make a cuppa tea, will you? I could do with a drink, but these two seem to have had it all."
"What happened? Are you alright? How come you're...?" Fury stopped mid-sentence, raised a warning hand and made a dash towards the bathroom. A series of distinctive ceramic splashy sounds followed.
Max wilted slightly under the glare of Althea as she filled the kettle. The other, presumably Phyllis, called out "Flooded!"
Pause. "Flooded...?" Fury's voice was weak and shaky, with a slight echo. "In the desert?"
"Fucking hydroelectric bloody power plant. First they kick us off our land to build the bastarding thing, then the bugger springs a leak and washes out Wasteland weekend. And we didn't even get the cheap power they fobbed us off with. Bastards."
Fury came back in and sat down by Max, white and a bit unsteady.
“Better?" Phyllis asked, leaning forward and lightly stroking her hair. Fury smiled and nodded, looking concernedly at Max. "You alright?"
He nodded, but it lacked conviction.
"You usually hold your drink better than that, Fury. Hope you haven't been slipping our girl roofies" Althea frowned towards Max, who made a sound of alarmed denial.
Althea had turned on the gas and was now cracking eggs into a sizzling pan. The hangover breakfast. Therapy or torture, it's hard to tell.
Afterwards, Althea beckoned Max out to the garden. Max cringed inwardly but followed, fully expecting a suspicious grilling prior to getting shown the door. She folded her arms, looked him squarely in the eye and said "Don't panic lad, I'm not going to bite you. Through I do have a shotgun in the shed. Only kiddin’. I keep it under the stairs. Guess we've got you to thank for bringing our girl back to us."
Max didn’t quite know what to say. Her demeanour was still borderline aggressive, but maybe that was normal.
“Okay, I see you’re not the chatty sort. Certainly won't hold that against you. But maybe you'll answer questions. Why'd you help our girl?"
"It's my job...was my job."
"You were a copper." He nodded. "Guess that's part of the job for some. Why'd you follow her to our place?"
Max’s face flamed in embarrassment. Shit. He’d been seen. It hadn’t really mattered back then, but now what must they think of him?
“Yeah, we saw you out the window. In the café, you were. Watching. Was that part of the job too?"
"No" he replied. "I was off duty. Just wanted to see she found you okay. Hadn't done any good if not."
"And then you left town. Why?"
Max tensed, paused to find the words. He would answer, regardless of what it would cost him. This was important.
Althea relented and added. "No, don't answer that. I had no right to ask. Your business. But you came here again. Did you know she was here?"
He shook his head.
"You went to get your leg looked at and recognised Fury again. And you made a point of getting reacquainted, right? Any particular reason?"
"Wanted to see if she was any better, happier"
Max was struggling now. "To...to see if it was possible for things to get better."
"Hmm. Looks like you're good friends by this time. Just good friends, eh?"
"Good friends" Max repeated.
Althea smiled a little, probably at his deliberate omission.
"You realise...Fury might act all hard as nails, all fixed now. But she's still a lost kid. You know she lost her mum when she was fifteen?"
"Fifteen?” Max was shaken by this. That didn’t make sense. “She said...more like nineteen or twenty."
Althea shrugged. "She had her reasons for keeping her head down. Probably got to be a habit, especially with coppers. You know what happens to girls who're alone in the City?"
Max nodded. He did know...he’d seen enough to know. The care system was notoriously poor at keeping track of its charges once they turned sixteen.
The Moore investigation had uncovered a lot of nasty secrets too. He was suspected of running an ‘entertainment’ industry. Trafficking young girls who had no family to interfere. By the sound of it, Fury would have been a prime candidate. Her story was bleak enough as she’d told it, but as a fifteen-year-old? Max felt sick.
“So then I don't suppose you were trying to get her drunk so you could have your way with her?"
“What? No! I brought pizza...well, mainly pizza" Max breathed out when he saw the twinkle in her eye. "We watched that film of yours, with the vampire octopus and all the people having to get drunk..."
“Yep, kinda makes you feel you have to keep up, don't it?" Althea paused for a moment.
Then she sat down abruptly on a bench.
“Our Fury was all alone at fifteen, and we didn't know. She couldn't find us, we were gone. We'd been turfed out to make way for that fucking dam. We moved around for two or three years before we came to the Valley. Just when she needed us" Althea wiped at her eyes angrily.
"So don't think she's all better now, because she isn't. It'll take more than a few years of a couple of old biddies trying to make amends. And then Valkyrie and Maddie getting killed, and Keep's aneurysm. Fury does her best, but it's hard, yeah? It's no picnic for me and Phyl either, but then we haven't been on our tod for half our adult life.
“So I'm just saying. Just to give you the full picture. You can come round any time, you know. You don't have to wait till the coast is clear."
Max felt like he'd gone six rounds with a heavyweight. Had he passed? He hoped he had.
Fury was huddled on the sofa sipping a glass of water when Max came back in. She thought he looked a bit peaky. Phyllis was on a laptop at the other end of the room, typing furiously.
"Hey, you hanging onto that egg okay?” she asked, hoping that Althea hadn’t taken her Wasteland disappointment out on Max.
"No, I'm good. How you feeling?" He leaned on the back of the sofa.
"Must've let myself get a bit dehydrated yesterday." She waved a hand at the glass and shrugged. “Were you okay out there with Al? Her bark's worse than her bite, you know.”
Fury thought he was looking at her kind of strangely.
He just dipped his head and murmured into the top of her hair
"I should go. Feel better."
It certainly wasn't a kiss, but it made her heart leap in the same way a kiss might. She had a faint memory from the night before...she looked up, but he was gone.
"Al?" she called out. "What did you say to Max...?"
Max went straight to the bathroom to brush his teeth. His mouth tasted like something had climbed in and died. Glancing up to his reflection to be sure he was aiming the toothbrush at the right orifice (he was still a bit unsteady), the light reflected off a shiny smudge on his cheek, one of the few unforested parts of his face. He squinted at it.
A memory bobbed up merrily on the river of alcohol that was last night. She had leaned in and he must’ve turned and...wow.
He inspected his lips for evidence but he'd eaten Althea's fried egg since then. It had been swimming in butter, probably would have gone down as one of the best if his stomach hadn't been giving him warning shots the whole time. So any traces of lip balm (peach, it smelled of peach) would be long gone. He really didn't know whether to thank or curse whoever invented alcohol.
Pouring himself a glass of water, Max settled himself on the sofa.
Sid and Di were away for a couple of days, so he was taking the opportunity for a comfier bed for a change. It had been hard enough to persuade them that the garage was fine, really. But he'd prefer the sofa, ideally. He wasn't completely feral.
Just a bit of shut-eye, to get rid of that jaded feeling. Not quite a hangover, but he sure wouldn't be passing a breathalyser test any time soon…
Max fell into a troubled sleep.
It was raining, and midnight-dark. A few lights reflected in the huge puddles, flickering as the rain splashed and disturbed the surface.
Max is glad not to be out in that. He feels like he's on duty, which can't be right, this isn't the city. The rain makes him uneasy, but he doesn’t know why.
There was the sound of children's laughter, small feet splashing through the puddles with complete abandon. Two girls run into view. One has long hair in two braids, screams in a shrill yodelling cry as she brandishes a sword at an unseen antagonist. The other wears an eyepatch and wields a huge gun, and it looks real, it can't be, she's just a kid.
What are they attacking? Little bouncing animals, quite cute but definitely not fluffy. And the two girls are really going to town on them. Shooting, stabbing, kicking, stamping.
Finally, they seem to have cleared the field. The braided one is gone now, and the gun-toting girl turns and waves in triumph at Max. He tries to call out to her, turn around, it's not over. But he has no voice, and a huge black octopus-thing looms over her as she looks at him. He turns the ignition and drives off through the rain, siren blaring.
He drives carefully, he always does when he's got Sprog in the car. That's why he doesn't takes his eyes off the road when Fury speaks.
’I'm sorry about your wife, Max’
She looks different, in the corner of his eye. He's never seen her in that colour, must be something new. He glanced over and froze. The bruises on her face, on her neck…she's wearing the same clothes…Long sleeves to hide scars old and new.
Fury looks up from the photo in her hand, muddy tears running down her face.
Max turned with a smile to the back seat. Jessie and Sprog, smiling happily at him. Of course. What you got there, little man? His boy proudly holds it up in two chubby hands. A round ball, cloudy, translucent.. Something moved inside.
Max woke as he hit the floor, air knocked out of him. The glass was overturned, but not broken. He sat upright and looked at the clock on the wall. He'd been asleep for just over an hour and he felt more shattered than when he lay down.
He slid down ‘til he could rest the nape of his neck on the sofa cushion and fixed his eyes on the ceiling.
Max tried to chase away the dream, which clung to him like cobwebs.
These nightmares, god …things always seemed to creep into his dreams. Even a stupid monster movie. He always worried that he was too easily bothered by things, too much to be a cop anyway.
Jessie said it was because he cared. Don’t ever change.
She must have kept the dreams at bay somehow, because they were always worse when he slept alone.
He closed his eyes to remember his boy’s face, her face. They'd be so much older now. Almost eight. Thirty-one.
And now he was having nightmares about Fury. It was what Althea had told him, about her being alone so young. He'd seen it too many times, how that could end.
The worst was the girl in the canal. She looked like a vessel that had been used up and thrown away. They hadn't even bothered to weigh her down. Like it didn't matter if she was found. She had the tattoo, she belonged to the Warlord. Or so it was rumoured. Not that anything could ever be proven, of course.
She was so young, but her eyes were old. He didn't want to know what they had seen. And now he'd seen her wear Fury’s face. That'll be a hard image to shift.
His almost leapt out of his skin when his phone buzzed a text.
‘Want to come over later? Sugar therapy. Al’s making baked alaska’
‘I'll be there’ His thumbs moved without any conscious input from his frazzled brain.
Max breathed slowly and deeply.
She's alright. She’s offering dessert. And then he remembers, brings his hand to just below his left eye.
And she might have kissed him, just a little. All’s well in the world.
My Poor Brain, The Foo Fighters
Chapter 15: Hercules
Fury tells her story. The unabridged version.
When Max gets there, Fury’s doing something to the Rig’s interior. She’s got it parked in the yard for a change. He wondered if that had any significance, or if it was just to get some cool evening air.
“Hey, how's your head ?" she asked, stepping down from the vehicle more carefully than usual.
"Aaagh, don't remind me.” He rubbed it with a mournful grin. “You done throwing up yet?"
"Just got chronic earache from the nagging" she nodded towards the house. "Hope Al didn't give you too much grief. She was kidding about the roofies, by the way."
"Ah no. She's nice. Phyllis too. Good friends to have" he added thoughtfully.
"Yeah, they take good care of me" Fury acknowledged with a fond smile.
Max paused, uncertain. And then plunged in. "It…sounds like you can take care of yourself pretty well...from what Althea said, I mean. You did, for a long while."
She looked at him a little warily. "What did she tell you?"
"That you were barely sixteen when your...when it happened. And you were alone since then."
Fury nodded. "I don't remember what I told you back then. I didn't mean to lie - I just lost track of time. I suppose she'd been dead about six years by the time I graduated. It wasn't so hard. I got by."
"You want to talk about it?"
She thought of the shock, the loneliness, of being completely and utterly alone.
Of the first year. Coming home from school to an unheated house, going out to work in the evenings to pay the rent. Short-dated ready meals as a break from the monotony of eggs and beans and toast, toast, toast. Lying to friends and teachers that an aunt she didn't have had come to live with her. Forging signatures, evading parent-teacher meetings.
Until she left school.
And why this façade? Because Miss Giddy told her to. She warned Fury that she would go into care otherwise. And that would not a be good thing for Mary Jabassa's girl.
Her mums boss was the one who had knocked on her door that night to tell the child her mother was dead.
Giddy helped when she could. Fury had asked her once - though she was immediately ashamed of it – asked if she could come and stay at hers. Giddy shook her head sadly and said that would not be a good thing for Mary Jabassa's girl. In her frustration, Fury had wept aloud and asked why?
“Because you're your father's daughter, child, and there are people who would hurt you if they knew."
The sheer unexpectedness of this reply calmed Fury immediately. She had loved to write stories when she was a kid and the most melodramatic yarns had an appeal to her. She didn't have to believe them.
So she didn't go 'What?' or ‘That's crazy'. She just asked "Who? And why?"
Giddy blinked, seemingly taken aback by her reaction. "I mean it. It's not some elaborate excuse to avoid taking you in."
“I didn't think it was. You could just say you don't have room. Besides. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. I don't have any claim on you."
Giddy smiled. “Bless you, child, you do have a claim on me. But I think I can help you in other ways. Your father crossed some very bad people. He left your mum because he didn't want her to get hurt because of him."
“Where is he now? Is he still in prison?"
"I don't know. Hopefully no one knows."
"He's hiding, then...Will he ever come back?"
"When certain people get what's coming to them."
Giddy's smile reminded Fury of Katie just then.
Fury had reason to be grateful for Katie's training. It was about three months after her mothers death and she was on her way home from work.
She'd gone there straight from school three days a week for almost a month now, and it was working out okay.
She would help out in the warehouse of a small business that supplied novelty items to shops. She wondered who ever bought that tacky stuff, but she supposed there would always be enough hen and stag parties to keep the business afloat. It was run by a short-sighted old guy who paid her under the counter and never thought to ask her age. She was tall and he probably assumed she was older. So far so good.
The worst part was the walk home through the industrial estate. She wished she'd taken a job in a café or something, where there would be cars and people around but, at the time, she wanted to keep her head down. She spent so much of her time avoiding people that it was becoming ingrained.
But at times like this, isolation was not comforting.
There had been a few moments, a few scares even.
A drunk guy calling out in the street spiked her adrenaline. But it wasn’t aimed at her, specifically; he was just railing against the world in general.
Two men silently waiting at a bus stop. Nothing to fear, unless you thought of all the possibilities.
Two streets from home. Almost there. Turning a corner, her heart nearly stopped.
A kid, a boy, hair shingled to the bone, running towards her. He stopped, breathlessly asking for help. Help, please, his brother was hurt. Fell off a wall, he’s hurt real bad. The kid looked up at her imploringly, his blue eyes swimming with tears.
“Where is he?” she asked. “Have you called an ambulance?”
“No” he sobbed. “He’s this way. Come and help, please.”
He reached out his hand to clutch her sleeve and turned to indicate the direction, outside the pool of street light. It was then that she saw the tattoo on the back of the kid’s neck.
‘You see this mark on someone, you get far away’.
“No. No I can’t.” She stopped short and backed away. “I’ll call an ambulance.”
She got her phone out, never taking her eyes off the boy. His eyes widened in alarm and he looked sideways. “Buzz!!” he shouted, warily.
‘No names, you little prick.’
Running feet, chasing her.
So close to home, but she’d fled in panic and was heading the wrong way. Smack right into someone. Someone who held her tightly and called out ‘Got her!’
A second came running up, from behind, she heard him say ‘Ooo shiny’.
“Get the van…” her assailant began, but didn’t finish. Her head had impacted his nose and her knee his groin. She wrenched herself free from his grip.
She only had a blurred memory of what happened after that.
Next thing she knew, she was slumped in her hallway, gripping her keys tightly in her hand. Looking at them, they were covered in blood. And it wasn’t hers.
Fury finished school about six months after her mum's death.
Despite everything, she's managed to get good enough grades to get into college. It was good timing, really. It would be less of a struggle to hide her situation from strangers than from people she'd known for a while.
She had her job but, after her scare on the way home that night, she was afraid to go out. This lasted a few days until she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to do something.
So she cut off her hair, left off the small amount of makeup she was used to wearing, and began to dress in jeans and loose tshirts almost exclusively. She used to wear faded prints and little tshirts with daft logos on. No more of that now.
Fury ventured out when the food ran low. She skulked along the street, eyes down, walking differently. Crossing the square, she saw a gaggle of shaven-headed hoons congregating by the fountain. She didn't know how she managed to keep walking in a straight line, not altering her pace, when everything in her wanted to run. But if she ran, she'd be running for the rest of her life.
They glanced up, scrutinised her briefly, then looked away. They didn't see the girl they'd called 'shiny' only a few weeks ago. She wondered if they had some kind of Terminator-esque pattern recognition system in their idiot skulls and she no longer blipped up on their radar. Hair and makeup and dresses, that's what they looked for, seemingly.
Among them was one that had tried to tackle her. The one with his arm in a sling. He looked her right in the eye too – not a glimmer of recognition. It had been dark, but these lowlives seemed to do most of their business after twilight, so it probably wasn't just that.
She'd been so frightened - hiding in the house like a hunted rabbit. No more. She might be alone, but she would take care of herself. She would have to.
Since school finished, she hadn't trained once. It had been a school club, after all. Now she was out in the world, what could she do?
She spotted a flyer for 'Fight Club' outside a local pool hall. Hmm. Her imagination suggested it probably wasn’t the ideal substitute for a high school MMA Society, but then she wasn’t a school kid any more.
She hung about outside a couple of evenings, just to get a feel for the situation. To see who would be there. And, importantly, what state they'd be in when they came out again.
There were a disturbingly high number of skinhead youths in matching jackets, some of whom she recognised as the very people she should be avoiding.
But what better way to keep herself safe than to know her enemy? She'd kicked their asses once, when they weren't expecting resistance. Next time would probably be different.
She was just about getting up the nerve to go in, when she spotted a face she knew. Who was that? No one from school. She hadn’t met many people from uni yet. She’d swerved freshers week entirely. What was the point? Classes had only just begun, and there was no other reason to go in before that.
Then the penny dropped. He was the third year mentor they’d given her. Yep, her own personal fount of wisdom was over there getting very friendly with a War Boy in an alleyway. Fantastic. Fury’s run of good luck continues.
But, as she watched them, she saw that the War Boy – quite the looker this one, even she had to admit – was getting a bit handsy. And her mentor – Michael, that was his name – was looking increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. Trying to laugh it off, but it seemed kinda strained.
Fury caught his eye as the War Boy nodded to his friends with an insinuating leer. Michael did not look like he necessarily wanted to meet them.
Oh God, she was gonna feel REALLY stupid if she was wrong about this…
She hurried over, looking irritated – to hide her actual, let’s not mince words here, terror – and said:
“Michael? Where have you been? Everyone’s looking for you!”
Registering his look as 30% surprise and 70% relief, she took his arm and marched off.
“You looked like you wanted an out.” She glanced at him with racing heart as they walked away, not looking back. “I’m Fury.”
“I know who you are. Um. Yeah. He was…wasn’t really my type.”
“Yeah. I don’t like those guys” she replied flatly.
“Do you go there?” he asked, after a moment’s silence. They were a good bit away now. In a more respectable area.
“Nah. I was just taking a look” she replied. “Didn’t fancy it, when it came down to it.”
“‘Cos I thought maybe Fury was your cage fighter name. Is it?”
She nearly exploded with laughter. It was probably the nerves. Oh boy, Katie would love that.
“No, no, it’s not” she managed, wiping her eyes. “I do bit of this and that. Never tried cages though. What about you? Were you gonna give it a try?”
Michael puffed air out “Nah. Don’t think it’s really my bag. Now that I see it. Ever tried fencing?”
Fury didn’t laugh. She just shook her head.
“Kendo? No? Well, if you haven’t already signed away your time, there’s some good uni clubs. If you’re into hitting people with sticks, that is.”
“Sounds alright. I’ll think about it.”
“Oh, and I prefer ‘Ace’, by the way. I only get ‘Michael’ when someone’s yelling at me.”
On the Rig steps they sat, in the quiet evening air. Fury rested her chin in her hand. She's conveyed as much as she can of her time alone. It's a relief to get it out, really. She couldn't tell the Mothers this stuff. They were half-tortured by guilt as it was. And Max had been a local cop, so he might know about some of this stuff.
“So, my dad, he was inside for robbery for at least three years. And then he just disappeared. Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him since, as far as I know. It's been almost twenty-five years. What's he been doing? If he's not dead…The thing is, I don't think he is dead. I think he's alive and looking out for me, somehow.”
She laughed, hearing herself. “Sounds like I'm delusional, I know…I mean, he maybe doesn't even know I exist, let alone where I am...”
Max shook his head. Just a general supportive shake, probably. She was firing out way too many unconnected speculations to expect anyone to keep up.
“…but, here's why.” She counted on her fingers. “One. Giddy talks like he's coming back. Why this has any weight with me, I don't know. But she was right about the War Boy tattoos, so she could be right about everything.”
Max nodded equivocally.
“Two. That bursary got me through my degree. It was a big one, I've checked. Way more than normal. Plus, Ace says they weren't giving them out anymore. He'd know ‘cos his mum…anyway...I'm thinking, didn't dad get away with quite a bit? And it was never found after he was taken?”
Fury looked to Max for confirmation. He nodded. A decisive nod.
“Three. I got this painting when I was about eighteen…I'll have to show it to you…No message with it, but it had written on the back ‘The Inner Light’. Three figures; a man, a woman and a girl. It was quite kind of stylistic, modern, but it did look like mum.”
“Be nice to see it.” Max murmured quietly.
“Where are we now? Four? Four. Prof Nunez. He approached me, just out of nowhere. Said they were doing a trial. Bio electric prosthetics for long term amputees. It's mainly used for people who lost a limb recently, but they didn't know if it'd work for people who had done without it for years. Were the neural impulses still working, that sort of thing? It seemed plausible at the time, and it still does. But I wonder if it was a way for dad to keep an eye on me, keep me busy, stop me from getting into bad company. The prof would occasionally talk like he knew my situation. Just little accidental slips, you know?”
She leaned forward conspiratorially. “I think he's a friend of dad’s. He did an arts degree too, he's about the right age... Giddy too. Maybe they've all been in touch, all this time. Listen to me, paranoid narcissist or what?” she half-smiled and shook her head.
“Okay, I just prefer to think he's out there, looking out for me. There are too many reasons not to like the alternative.”
Fury sat up straight and looked at Max, biting her lip. “That's all I know. Have you…I mean, did you ever hear anything about him? When you were in the police?”
“I knew about the robbery. How they - your dad and his friends – they got away with a lot of cash. Word is he was supposed to deliver it to someone who was coercing them into doing it. He got caught, probably deliberately. A lot of the cash was recovered, paintings too, but a fairly large chunk was never accounted for. We weren't able to prove it, but it looked like Moore was behind it. This was back when he was he was about twenty or so. Victor Otto was the head of Perpetuo then, and Moore was just Little Joe, the boss’s only nephew.”
Someone is reciting poetry in the basement apartment, occasional lines clearly audible, drifting up from the open window.
From what I hear, Moore had big ideas of being an art collector in his late teens. Tried his hand at painting too. Called himself Iosephus Maurus.” Max gave a wry smile.
"...on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command tell..."
“Once a dick, always a dick...” was Fury's contemptuous response.
“That’s probably how he crossed paths with your dad. Beyond that, I just know he’s ruthless when it comes to getting rid of people who cross him. There have been lots of disappearances. But that's why he's stayed away, right? Protecting himself and you. And your mum.”
"...hand that mocked them and the heart that fed..."
“Yeah. And when the trial’s over, then he can come back…” Fury sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
"…'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; look on my works and despair! Nothing beside remains..."
They both glanced down to see a pale face leaning out the open basement window to finish her recitation to the twilight sky.
“…the lone and level sands stretch far away."
“The Warlord will be brought low and his memory will be erased by the sands of time..." the girl smiled to herself, “...he'll really hate that."
She looked up at the pair sitting in the yard, probably noticing them for the first time. She nodded in acknowledgment and disappeared.
Fury turned to Max. “That's Dag. She's a bit intense."
Phyllis’ voice rings out from the kitchen door. ‘Ready! You snooze, you lose!’
Hercules, Aaron Neville https://youtu.be/NGGRi2CEFu8
Chapter 16: A Spoonful Of Sugar (Helps The Medicine Go Down)
More than social awkwardness.
It's a veritable gathering, and Max’s first proper introduction to the girls from the basement apartment. Or the ‘Wives’, as they're known around town. Max now knows from talk around town that Althea and Phyllis’s place is a kind of women's shelter. Now he saw the residents, he was surprised to see how young they were.
He didn't know much about them. Fury had told him all she knew herself, or so she said, anyway.
Dag and Toast were the twins.
She'd warned him NOT to laugh when he sees them, or ask them about it. They get that a lot, she said, and it pisses them off.
Max was very grateful for this forewarning. He was a discreet man by nature, but even he would have been unable to hide his surprise. First and foremost, he would have thought it was a private joke only he didn’t understand.
They didn't look at all alike. Dag was the spectre they'd seen a few minutes earlier, while Toast was the small, dark bundle of glaring aggression whom Max had seen out and about on nights when his insomnia was at its worst.
He'd been interested to meet them ever since Fury told him their mum had been the legendary Tanya Breaker, antiques dealer and general picker-up of unregarded trifles. Notably eccentric and shady as fuck, she had a record as long as your arm. Now almost always referred to in the past tense, as she hadn't been seen for well over a decade and was presumed dead.
She’d had numerous run-ins with Moore. Rumour had it that one of her associates shattered his septum with a golf club. The better-informed claimed that it was Breaker herself who did it, using Joe’s own nine-iron. A string of expensive nip-and-tuck merchants had failed to put it back together again, and he famously breathed with a wheezy whistle.
Max didn't know she had children. But her unconventional personal relationships were no secret and, if anyone could have twins by two different fathers, it would probably be her.
The mother missing presumed dead, the daughters hiding out in a women’s refuge. At least one of whom is preoccupied with the Warlord’s demise. That’s not just coincidence, surely.
Capable - unusual nickname - had the reddest hair Max had ever seen, and an admirable poker face. Fury didn't know anything about her, and she had never been seen about town, as far as Max knew. When she got up to leave the table, Max saw she was pregnant.
As was Dag, but a little further on. She also kept glancing at him, scrutinising him.
He didn’t have anything on his face, he’d gone to the bathroom to check. He hoped they would quit it, it was seriously unnerving.
Fury looked like she noticed it too. Maybe they'd heard he'd been a cop and didn't trust him. Probably right not to. But he'd been invited, so at least the older women must be satisfied he wouldn't bring trouble. Besides, they had Al’s shotgun.
Cheedo...does no one just have a normal name anymore?…she was the fourth. She was SO young, Max thought she was surely a guest from outside the house. But no. She lived in the basement flat with the others and, by all accounts, they came as a package. Max didn't like his theory at all.
All in all, Max was glad they were assembled for dessert and not a three-course meal. He knew he wasn't the chattiest of mortals, and the girls were a strange and miscellaneous crew.
Capable stared, Toast glared and Cheedo was visibly nervous. There was a definite atmosphere. Dag occasionally broke the awkwardness with a randomly malapropos remark, which often raised a smile, even if it wasn't likely to lead anywhere. It was Phyllis, Althea and Fury who carried the evening.
If anything, he was increasingly paranoid that it was his presence that was stilting the flow of conversation.
Then Althea asked declared it was time for a drink, and asked everyone what they were having. Fury’s protests that she and Max were still hungover went for nought. She opted for red wine on the grounds that she would definitely hurl again if she even smelled whiskey.
Max saw that Althea, who had clearly got a new bottle in to replace what ‘the kids’ had downed, was deflated. So his nod toward the Black Bush in her hand earned a wink and a pleased ‘That's my boy’.
’Dag and Capable are on the virgin cocktails I know, so…Toast, my girl! What's your poison?’
Toast shrugged. ‘I'll have what he's having.’
Max didn't know if that was a compliment or a challenge. He glanced at Fury, who gave him a surreptitious thumbs up. He creased up in a small smile. That's a relief.
In the midst of a slightly one sided conversation with Althea about her beloved bike, Max noticed how the room had emptied somewhat.
He hadn't seen how Dag, with numerous frowns and winks, indicated to Capable that she wanted a word in her ear.
But he noticed when Dag returned and whispered something to Fury. Whereupon she got up and left the room with her. He didn't know where Cheedo was, or Phyllis either.
He looked up when Fury reentered the kitchen, and immediately knew something was wrong. He’d suspected he’d blundered into some family drama or other, but this seemed serious. Fury looked like she’d seen a ghost.
He caught her eye and mouthed ‘everything alright?’, but she waved him down with a shake of the head and a low-spoken explanation in his ear that Capable was a bit upset about something, nothing to worry about.
She stood and leaned against the worktop as Dag loitered in the doorway, biting her nails. Took a drink from her previously untouched wine glass. Max watched her with concern, but she seemed to pull herself together.
‘So…Toast.” Fury drew herself up with a rather forced smile. “I've known you for a while now, and you still haven't told me where you got the name.”
Dag grinned like a Cheshire Cat. “Oho! That’s fighting talk, y’know. She won't tell, I betcha.”
Well, this is a conversation out of nowhere, Max thought. He wondered if Fury and Dag were trying to lighten the mood after whatever had just gone down with Capable. Fine, he’d happily go along with that.
He turned to look at Toast, who was sitting at the table opposite. She was returning Fury’s gaze unblinkingly, looking unfazed. Max spotted the tell though, the way she swirled the remaining whisky around her glass.
Toast smiled. “Okay Fury, I suppose we're well enough acquainted by now. I don't know you…” she pointed at Max. “…but you're alright.”
“We're honoured” Fury caught Max’s amused eye. “Go on then?”
“Right. So me and Dag, we're twins, yeah?” Toast looked around her audience, looking for an inappropriate reaction. Blank faces all round.
“She’s Dagmara, I’m…Angela” she sighed. “I do not like my name. And mum would call me her little angel, and laugh at me. She only did it to make me mad, I know. So when she called me that one day - we were camping out, the whole lot of us - she called me that, right in front of the dads and everything, just because I gave her the best marshmallow”
Max bit back an ‘awww’, on the grounds that it'd probably get him killed.
“So I kicked off. Said I wasn't an angel, I was a devil - with a FORK. Because that's what devils poke people with, right? But I'd lost my head, I was so mad, I couldn't remember the name for it - ”
She sighed. ‘I'm a devil - with a TOASTER’ doesn't sound quite as good.”
The table erupted.
“But if you tell anyone, I'll kill ya.” Toast pointed to each person in turn, with a twinkle in her eye. “And if you call me Angela, I'll kill ya”
“Oh my god - ” Althea wiped her eyes. “You girls’ll be the death of me yet.
They mutually agreed it was time to call it a night. End on a high note, as it were. But when Fury walked out the door with him, she looked still looked pale and a bit shaken up. Max was on the point of asking what had happened, when stopped him abruptly.
“Max - can you sit down a minute?” she asked in a low voice.
Oh shit, something’s bad. Max sat down, mind racing.
“It's Capable. She got a bit upset earlier because - well, you saw she's pregnant?”
Max nodded, frowning.
“The baby’s father - he's dead. He died trying to help the girls get away from their abusers. I don't know the details. The Mothers do, but they haven't told me - Anyway, she hadn't known him long, just a couple of days, she says. But he was a bit of a mess.”
Max frowned, trying to stop his mind from wandering, speculating. All images in his mind clamouring for attention. Don’t think, idiot, just listen.
"Nicks – that was his name - he wasn't long out of prison and he was basically dying of cancer. It was diagnosed in prison, because they kept finding him blacked out in his cell. They knew he was clean by then, too, so it wasn't the drugs that were doing it. He had a CT scan, and they found a massive brain tumour. They put him on chemo, and but it was too late by then.”
“That’s awful. Poor guy.” Max processed Fury’s words, and felt he ought to add something. “What was he in for anyway?”
Fury looked even more uncomfortable at that. “Possession, intent to supply and - well, he was a driver for one of the big dealers. He was a user, but never when he was working. He took his job very seriously, apparently.” She paused, took a deep breath.
“That's why he was glad when they told him why he'd been blacking out.”
She continued. “Because – Max, I’m telling you this because when it happened the first time…” Fury looked him right in the eye “ - he was driving. And he went through a stop sign - ”
A shudder ran through Max, he squeezed his eyes tight shut. That was a mistake – the sound and the feel of that moment we’re already there waiting for him.
He got to his feet abruptly, took a step away, onto the street. “I should go - ”
He had to go. He couldn’t be here, the house where someone lived who’d fucked the person who’d done this to him. It was too near, it made his skin feel strange, itchy. He walked, but it was like walking through treacle.
No. He did not want to be alone. Not in Sid’s garage. Not anywhere. He wouldn’t survive it, he knew.
He turned, looked back to where she stood outside the gate. He didn’t speak, but he didn’t have to. In a few seconds she was walking beside him.
They walked the mile and a half to Sid’s place. Neither spoke, and that was okay. Max couldn’t speak, couldn’t listen. He had to relive, re-watch the worst day of his life, through the prism of this new information.
Why had Capable told him? He thought what it meant, to know this new thing. The person who did it – he was sick, and didn’t know - he shouldn’t have been driving, but he didn’t know. It had been an accident.
Max didn’t know. No one had told him he was out of prison. How could they tell him? He’d gone awol. No way of contacting him to tell him.
Nicks. Yeah, that must be him. Max had repeated the name – he’d cursed Nicholas Young - over and over in his head but had never said the name out loud.
Nicholas Young wasn’t in prison. Nicholas Young was dead from a brain tumour. Fury said he’d been glad when they’d told him, because – the guilt? It hadn’t been his fault. It had been an accident.
Did it help? Did it matter? Max didn’t know.
Max woke behind the wheel of his car. Had he been there all night? Nghhh, stiff. He rubbed his neck. He saw movement in the corner of his eye. Fury was there, curled up in the passenger seat, blinking at him sleepily. Had they both been there all night?
Max was surprised that his eyes didn’t feel like actual carpet. He must’ve slept better than he'd expected. None of the nightmares he’d been expecting. Fury looked wrecked, on the other hand. Had she slept at all?
He’d finally convinced her to go home, get some shut-eye. Her phone was out of battery and, when they revived it, there were quite a few texts waiting.
He didn’t go with her though. It seemed wrong not to, but he couldn’t. Max sighed. Not yet anyway.
A Spoonful Of Sugar, Julie Andrews
I can only apologise for what looks like a ridiculous cyclical reference regarding Toast’s probable father being Rory Breaker from Lock Stock. I couldn’t help it. For argument’s sake, let’s say the character is Lock Stock is based on a real person, Toast’s Dad. Can we do that? Please? Because that would be just perfect (see link)
Chapter 17: The Way You Do The Things You Do
Capable briefly tells Nicks’ story.
A few days later, Fury knocked on the door of the basement flat. She's become the designated go-between on the thorny issue of Nicks.
The fallout is less devastating than she'd expected.
It helped that Max’s bitterness had long since been channelled towards those higher up the pecking order than the kid in the dock. Although that wouldn't have stopped him knocking ten bells out of him if he ever saw him again. And probably then some. He'd taken drugs and then got behind the wheel and he drove.
But that was certainly never going to happen now, for more reasons than one.
The kid had been sick, not drugged-up. And he'd been sorry. He'd looked sorry in court, but that could have been for the judge’s benefit. He hadn't meant to do it. And, by the sound of it, his guilt only became bearable when he received a death sentence. Finally, he was already dead and buried.
But Max had questions. At least, he felt he needed to hear more. And Capable almost looked relieved when Fury suggested they meet to talk it out.
Fury had seen him sleep. Twice, if you count his nap in the park. Max's nightmares seemed to be a regular thing. She hoped this interview would ease them. She feared they might make them worse.
They sat over tea in the basement flat while Capable tells Max and Fury about Nicks. She’s terse and concise, and shows no emotion. It must be difficult, they both know.
Telling his story meant telling some of her own. To near-strangers, and with the complication that one of them is deeply emotionally involved in what she’s telling them. It’s not a comfortable conversation, to say the least.
Nicks. His violent upbringing, his criminal career, how he’d regretted killing innocents. Buzzards, Wallopers, that was different. Fair game. There was honour in that. But he’d been a War Boy, and that was all the code he’d known. He wouldn’t deliberately hurt anyone.
How Nicks’ sentence was commuted after the diagnosis.
The girls, Capable and the others, they had been controlled by powerful men. But when they finally escaped, Nicks had kept their pursuers off their tail. It had cost him his life in the end.
How surprised she'd been to find she could trust someone again. What's more, to trust him with her freedom, her life, even. She lit up a very little bit when she spoke of him as she personally knew him. It had just been a few days, but it clearly had meant a lot to her.
“But I can't talk about it. The details, I mean.” Once again her jaw was set, her expression determined. “You’ll know about it soon enough, though. You’ll know, Fury. Soon.”
Max and Fury exchanged a look.
“I’m sure those girls are witnesses. They’re bound to be.” Fury surmised, once they'd found a quiet corner in Phyl and Al’s place. She felt uncomfortable talking about it, with that idea in mind. That they could be in a witness protection safe house and not even know it. Max looked like he felt the same.
“Guess that ‘soon’ means when the trial’s over.” Fury leaned forward and spoke low. “Wonder why she was so particular about me, though. Could Dad be a witness too? Giddy said he'd be back when ‘certain people got what was coming to them’.”
“I wonder if Giddy’s AFP - those could be fake tattoos – she could’ve been working undercover all this time?”
“Hah. It wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe she is.” Fury sat back in her seat, exasperated. “Aaah, this tension’s killing me. And all these fucking hints people keep dropping.” She leaned forward again and looked at Max. “But look, this wasn't supposed to be about me. How are you after - you know - what Capable said?”
Max slumped forward with a sigh. He’d almost forgotten why they’d been there in the first place. It was nice to think about something else than his own woes.
“Oh, how can I blame him when he was sick and didn't know it? It was the tumour that caused the crash - and then it killed him.”
He frowned at this thought. “But it didn’t, though. It didn't kill him. He died helping the girls. Saving Capable. And his own child!” Max almost laughed at that, at his own envy. “I would've done that - would've given anything – “
“I know you would, I know – “ she reached out and gripped his hand tightly – she had a hell of a grip, Max wondered if she knew - his hand bones grinding together bringing him back to the present. Her eyes full of that fierce concern he knew so well by now. “I know you would have – “
Max was torn in half then, torn between his longing for the life that was long gone and for what he had right here. Envying Nicks’s sacrifice, but all the while wanting - well, he didn't know what this was, what he had with Fury, but he was hooked.
What was wrong with him? He could neither let go of the past or lose himself to it completely. Stuck, wheels spinning.
Max told himself ‘It's been a rough day. It'll all look clearer tomorrow.’
Capable and Nicks’ short-lived relationship doesn’t get much airtime in this fic, sorry. But here’s a song that I think sums it up nicely.
The Way You Do The Things You Do, The Temptations
Chapter 18: Here Comes The Rumour Mill
“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht. Und horet, was itzund geschicht…”
(“Ssh – I want to hear what they're saying over there…”)
Section 1: Alexa
Alexa Papadopoulou was only four when her dad remarried. She’d been flower girl at Dad and Marie’s wedding and could barely remember it, although all the photos made it easy to believe she did. Her favourite was one of her and Jess in their matching dresses. Her new big sister.
And she got to do it all over again as a proper bridesmaid at Jess and Max’s wedding, when she’d got herself a big brother too.
But now it’s just her and her father again.
First Marie. Then Jess and little mou.
And then Max; he upped and left one day. Left all his stuff behind. No word to anyone where he was going or for how long.
Her dad got a letter a few weeks later, asking him to let out the place, and use the rent to pay the mortgage. ‘Just keep whatever’s left.’
Of course they didn’t keep it – what’s left over goes into Max’s account every month. But they had no way of knowing if he was making any withdrawals. No way of knowing that he hadn’t done something stupid.
But, thank God, a few weeks later they received a postcard – just blank, but the address was in Max’s handwriting. They got one every six months or so. None of them ever had a message.
Alexa had to do something, so she contacted one of Max's former colleagues to ask for help in finding him. A junior admin guy she remembered from police barbecues and suchlike, back when Jess and Max were setting up Home.
But they had so little to go on. The postmark on each card was different, and gave no leads. Max was always moving on, never leaving a paper trail behind. Brian made something that would alert him if Max’s name appeared on any database. There was nothing more they could do.
Nothing but silence for years. But then, out of the blue, Brian GOT A HIT. She knew he would, hadn't she always said?
There's a Max Rockatansky in Valley Haven, only a few miles away. She couldn’t believe it. Is it him? It's bound to be.
She flew to her dad in excitement and he endeavoured to rationalise her hopes. It might be a mistake, someone else, anything. But of course it's him, and she would persuade him to come home.
But he might not want to come home, her dad warned. Too many memories, he wouldn't blame him. But, Dad, didn't Uncle Frankie say he wanted someone to run the business up North? Max might take the job. Then we'd know where he was, at least.
Alexa made the drive to Valley Haven. She parked up, and took a wander round town. Looks like a nice enough place. People nod and smile as she passes. Bit weird, after the city, but kind of nice. That’s small town life for you.
There's no address listed for Max, so she plans to just ask around. Should be easy enough, looks like the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. The post office, that'd be a good place to start.
Hi! She approached the woman in the shop with a bright smile. Could you tell me - is there a Max Rockatansky living near here?
She was a little taken aback by the response. The woman looked at her narrowly
‘You're not the cops, are you?'
Alexa laughed, perhaps a little too loud. She's nervous, and that kind of question does not help.
Oh God no, I'm an interior designer, and gave the woman her card. This looked like the sort of place that was crying out for a revamp.
The woman, slightly mollified, replied 'Hmm, I'd get you to give my place a lick of paint, but I got it done lately, just in '95 there. So what do you want with that nice young fella?'
Alexa went blank. She hadn't expected a direct question. They seem like a blunt sort out here.
Umm - personal - reasons? She’d aimed for concise, for fear that she would divulge way too much personal information.
The woman lifted her eyebrows and replied stiffly 'Oh. I see. Hmph, well then...' And gave her directions to an address a few streets away.
She drove to the address, scanning the street. It's not exactly a logical numbering system. Oh here it is, finally.
Rings the bell.
Hi! She says, still quite brightly, to the man who answers the door. Does Max Rockatansky live here?
‘You're not the cops, are you?'
"No. No, I'm not" she handed him her card. "Why does everyone keep asking me that?"
She wonders what the hell Max has been up to.
The man looked at the card. "Guy lives out of his car. Don't think he's needin' any decorating done."
"I just need to find him. Could you give me a contact number? Anything?"
“Maybe if you tell me why you're asking - ?"
Alexa sighed, exasperated. She grabbed the card, scribbled on the back, and handed it back to him.
"Just tell him Alexa called."
"He's out" he shrugged. "Don't know where he'd be right now. Should be back later."
"So you're not going to give me a number?"
The man only shrugged helplessly, looking awkward. Alexa turned on her heel and marched off.
Section 2: Sid
Sid looked down at the card in his hand. He whistled. Not looking good, this. He reached for his phone, texted Max.
‘Woman looking for you. Call me asap.'
"What was that all about?" Dianne peered over his shoulder to see the card.
"Think Max's got some trouble brewing." He handed her the card.
Section 3: Alexa
After a hot, dusty and fruitless search about town, Alexa returned to the address. This time a heavily pregnant woman answered the door.
"Yes?" Her expression is an odd mix of concern, suspicion and sympathy.
"I'm looking for Max Rockatansky. It's important. I'm not the police, before you ask."
“We haven't seen him today." The woman shrugged.
This was too much. Alexa almost wailed "Oh - please. I've been looking for him for four years, for God's sake!”
“Who are you?"
Alexa sighed, close to tears now. It had been a long day. "I'm his sister-in-law - I mean - he's got a family!"
"So he's married?!" The woman asked, shocked, just as a hairy biker-looking guy walked past.
“Yes - no - my sister died, and he left - he's been missing for years. We've had no idea if he was even alive."
“Oh God, okay, come in. I'll give you a number. I'm sorry, we had no idea."
Over a glass of water, Alexa qualified her statement. "Okay, we had a good idea he was alive. We got messages every so often. Postcards, that sort of thing. Just to say he was ok."
“Well, here's his number anyway - ” The woman looked a little awkward, understandably, Alexa supposed.
“I'll text him.” But Alexa paused, phone in hand. Now she could contact him, she realised she had no idea how to begin.
“Is there a nice café near here? I might just try and get my head together first.”
“Well, there's Kim’s. Dunno if you could call it nice, but it's fairly quiet. And he goes there quite often with…well, you might see him. Wait, they changed the name. It's called ‘Bean and Gone’ now, but that hasn't caught on.”
“Great” Alexa’s found it on her phone. “I'll go there. Thanks so much for this - ”
She wants to say more, but she's choking up a little. Don’t cry, you idiot. So she gave the woman a quick smile and leaves.
Section 4: Dianne
Dianne’s a little uneasy, not sure how well she'd dealt with that. Should she have told her about Max and Fury? But what was there to tell anyway? She texts Sid -
‘You got hold of Max yet? Prob ok, not what we thought. Call me when you can xxx’
Section 5: Mallory
There are a couple of regular staff in Kim's. But Mallory always feels she's got the longest shifts. Usually days when it's not that busy. The time drags. And the music doesn't help. She liked it at first, when she started. Three years ago. Too much of a good thing.
But the customers liked it. Well, that one customer who gave it a mention on the comment card last year. Said it was ‘apt and eclectic’. That was reason enough for the owner to insist they never change the CD. At least it's a five-disc changer.
The regulars didn't mind. Some said they didn't have to check the time whenever they're in Kim’s. The track shuffle setting was broken.
Frank Sinatra doing The Coffee Song? 8:15, 12:50 or 3:25. Short Double Latte by Combustible Edison? Must be 11.30, 4:05 or 8:40.
The theme is pretty obvious, although when the German baroque harpsichord opera thing kicked in first time, there was a bit of head scratching. But after a squint at the CD track list and a quick Google search, the manager was satisfied. No it's okay, it's definitely still about coffee!
Anyway, this was why Mallory always wore her headphones at work when the boss wasn't around. Yes, it was probably rude, but it was better than hauling off one day and trashing the CD player. And she did take them out for the few seconds it took for people to order.
But, horror of horrors. One day, she dropped her phone into the coffee pot. Fuck. But while she fussed around giving CPR to the half-drowned device, she kept her earphones in. Just habit.
Within half an hour, she’d overheard the juiciest bit of gossip she'd had in a long while.
Next day, phone still drying in a bagful of rice, Mallory did a full shift with her earphones in. Not intentionally listening in to people's private conversations, but if people will discuss things in public places, well -
And when her phone got over its near-death experience, she found she didn't feel the need to press play hardly at all.
Only problem with this was, she couldn't pass any of it on. Because then people would know she was listening in. Life's like that, sometimes.
Some days the catch was light. Just little tiddlers of gossip it wasn't worth listening in on. Sometimes she thought she'd go back to the music again. Today had been one of those days.
It’d been a quiet one. There was just one woman, at the corner table behind the door. She hadn't seen her around before.
Mallory sized up unfamiliar faces, everyone did, in Valley Haven. Once she'd taken a good look at the newcomer - definitely out from the city, from her shiny hair to her shiny shoes - there wasn't much more entertainment to be had. Mallory didn't strike up conversations, that wasn't her modus operandi. Besides, this one seemed to have something on her mind.
Then Max and Fury came in, nodded a greeting and sat down at their usual table.
Mallory liked them. There was always a fair amount of variety in their chat. Usually a lot of nonsense that she couldn’t follow but was entertaining enough. Some decent goss about Ace Palin and that hairy biker guy he's seeing. Other times they'd just sprawl over the table and look all serious, mournful even. They'd talk lower then, but she'd often catch scraps. Didn't mean much to her, though.
Fury was pretty easygoing but Mallory suspected it wouldn't be wise to cross her. You don't get a nickname like that for nothing. And Max - mmm, well he had that mysterious loner thing going on. Shame he's already taken.
Mallory saw the woman behind the door look up as they came in. She moved to get up, but seemed to change her mind and sat down again. She stared over at where the couple were sitting, and her face went very red.
Mallory had never been a bartender, but serving coffee isn't so very different. Her instincts were telling her to start clearing the more expensive bottles off the shelves. The flavoured syrups, in this case.
She watched Fury glance now and then at the unknown woman who's been looking over at them more frequently than might be considered polite. Max has his back to her, so he's oblivious.
“ - oh, hey, nearly forgot - here's your phone. You left it behind the other night. You’ve got a couple of texts waiting - ” Fury pulled a mobile from her pocket and put it on the table. Max smiles his thanks, giving Mallory the idea of offering them a free refill.
Right on cue, the mobile pings a text. He reached for it just as the shiny stranger pushed her chair back abruptly and made for the door.
“Hey - !” Mallory called out. But the door slammed with an angry jingle. She looked over at Fury and Max, stunned. “She didn't pay - !”
But they've got troubles of their own. Max looks white as a sheet, staring at his phone.
Mallory didn’t have time to speculate. She rounded the counter and stepped out onto the street. Nobody there. Fuck. That's a first. Deep down she's kind of relieved, though. What would she do, anyway? A citizen’s arrest for three dollars?
She's almost knocked over by Max bowling out through the door.
“Where'd she go?” he asked.
He's still really quite pale.
“I dunno, I didn't see. Here, are you alright? Come in and sit down, I'll get you - what, a glass of water? Cuppa sweet tea?”
Fury's at his elbow instantly. He turned to her.
“Fury - can I just - go away for a bit? Need a minute - ” He looked pretty shaken up.
“’Course. Be okay, yeah?” She put her hand on his arm, kind of uncertain-like.
Mallory can never tell which one is the fake hand. It's amazing the things they can do.
Max headed up the street towards the park. Fury stood and watched him go. She looked worried.
“Is he alright?” Mallory asked.
“Hope so - ” Fury paused for a moment, then went back into Kim's.
Mallory followed her. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“Me? ‘Course.” Fury replied, kind of abstracted, as she put ten dollars on the table and disappeared out the door.
Section 6: Max
Max didn't know where he was going. He just needed somewhere quiet, with no people. Where he could lick his wounds.
This was a punishment. For wanting to move on.
Maybe he should just leave. He leaned forward, dropping his head in his hands. Just go. This wasn't for him. He was a fool to think this could be.
He barely noticed the hand brush his head. “Max - ” That voice sounded familiar. “Max, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it.”
He looked up into Alexa’s face. She’d been crying.
“Can I sit down?”
Section 7: Alexa
‘Didn't take you long to move on'
If she could take it back - she could grab his phone, delete it, delete it off her own. But it had been said, and the shot had hit its mark.
He looked crushed, and she hated herself for it. What would Jessie say? Could she have ever forgiven her for hurting her Max like that?
It was Max who comforted her on that park bench. Nothing ever really changes. Except when it does. But she'd always been the little idiot with the temper, who cried to be forgiven when it was over.
Section 8: Fury
Fury walked toward the clinic. No appointments today. Thank God for that, she thought. She wouldn’t be able to concentrate. On anything other than Max, that is. But there's always paperwork.
What was in that text? Something to do with that woman, presumably. Fury felt a chill run though her. Just worried about him, that's all, she told herself.
She was a bit put out to see that Ace and Dave were both in, with all the signs of waiting for her. She groaned silently – she really wasn't in the right place for conversation at that moment. Turn round, go. It's not too late. But no, she'd been spotted.
Ace beckoned her in. Hmm, he looks worried, she noticed.
“Hey. What's up? Thought you two had the afternoon off.”
“Hey Fury. Thought we'd just pop in and see if you around.” Ace looked past her. “Max not with you?”
Then she knew something was up. Ace normally referred to Max as Oscar the Grouch or The Littlest Hobo. Variations on a theme, always highly disrespectful but endearing enough to convey that he actually liked him a bit. Now it's just ‘Max’. There's definitely something up.
“Don't beat around the bush, Ace. What's on your mind?”
Awkward pause. No innuendo. Another sign something's off. Ace would usually say something dreadful like ‘I wouldn't know what to do with a bush if I saw one’.
“You know Max has had a visitor? Well - Dave, show her.”
Dave handed her his phone. She took it, looked. Blinked once, twice. Put it down on the reception. She bit her lip a little. Took a breath and turned to Dave. Spoke in a dangerously quiet voice.
“You've been spying on him?”
“Well, I'd overheard something about him being married, and when I saw him in park with - ”
“He didn’t know about the wife being dead, Fury. Just told him now.” Ace explained, quietly.
“Well, it's not as bad as I thought, but - ” Dave gestured towards the phone. Fury didn't need to look again.
“Do you really think he deserves to be spied on? Oh God, what if he saw you? Not cool, Dave.”
Fury turned about and went home. This day was getting worse and worse. She felt sick. She felt like crying. And she couldn't figure out why.
No, she knew perfectly well the reason why.
Section 9: Ace
And now he had a crushed boyfriend to put back together. Poor Dave, his heart went out to the hapless loveable idiot.
Ace blamed himself. He should’ve known Fury wouldn't take kindly to her man being suspected of wrongdoing. Even if it was for her own sake. How would Ace himself feel if someone brought him pictures of Dave cozying up to another man on a park bench? The messenger always gets the first shot.
“Come on, big man. Don't let it upset you. She knows you meant it for the best.”
“I’ve fucked up, Ace. What if he leaves and it's my fault?”
“Shush, you big galah. It'll all sort itself out. You were trying to help. That's what I love about - ” Ace stopped mid-sentence.
Dave made a strangled hiccup and looked up at Ace with those big puppy eyes that Ace couldn't resist. Just go for it.
“That's one of the things I love about you.” There. He said it.
Section 10: Fury
Fury watched them lock up and walk away, hand in hand. Dave's head bent confidingly towards Ace. They paused in an empty doorway for a lingering kiss.
Fury’s heart did something strange, both painful and cathartic. Wow. They've made progress. This was the first proper PDA she'd seen them make.
She'd come back to apologise to Dave. Bloody idiot meant well. And the photos were too far off for there to be much risk of him being seen. Though he's a hard man to miss.
But it looked like Ace would do a better job at consoling him if he was upset. She'd text him later. Give them an hour, maybe two.
Fury almost smiled as she unlocked the clinic and let herself in.
Section 11: Max
They went back to the café. Alexa looked apologetically at the barista and asked for two teas. She paid up front, plus the unpaid coffee. Adding a sizeable tip.
They sat down at a table by the window. Max looked over at Fury's place to see if there's any sign of her. No, she's probably out.
Alexa takes his hand and looks at him earnestly. “You actually look good! I thought you were wandering around like a hobo or something.”
Max smiled a little, thinking of the fuckin’ dero who showed up at Sid's not so long ago.
“Yeah, well - folks round here are pretty nice, and - well, it's sorted me out a bit.”
“Where are you staying? What have you been doing with yourself?”
“At a mate’s place. He's got a garage. Helping out a bit.”
“Hmm - met him. His wife’s nice though.”
Max raised an eyebrow. What did Sid do to piss Alexa off?
“What about your friend? The woman who was in here with you. Who's she?” Alexa looks sheepish, like she's worried he'll think she's making another dig by asking. “She seems nice.”
“Fury’s a good friend. She fixed my knee up when I wrecked it again. She helps me a lot - ” Max was painfully aware of the heat creeping treacherously to his face.
But Alexa just smiled, and said she was glad things were looking a bit brighter for him.
They must've sat for over an hour, talking things over. Where Max had been, how he'd avoided being traced, how he'd maintained himself.
That done, they found themselves discussing the collision. It was difficult, but Max had believed he would never be able to talk about it. At least to someone who was close to the tragedy.
Fury was different. Words flowed from him when she was listening, like her ears were hungry for them. Okay, they didn't flow exactly, but they spluttered out in a fairly steady stream.
Yes, it was difficult. There were tears, and not just from Alexa. He was glad the café was empty. Even Mallory was nowhere to be seen.
Section 10: Phyllis
Hey kiddo. Where you at?
“I'm at work, Phyl. Everything alright?”
Yeah, kinda. Hopefully. Have you heard the drama? Silence. Fury? You still there?
“Yeah. Signal went. What drama, Phyl?”
Your boy’s had a visitor. Suppose you know?
“Know what? I mean, I know there's a woman, but - ”
So she’s the sister-in-law, right? And she's been looking for him for years now. Only managed to track him down ‘cos he started using his own name again. It all got a bit emotional, so I'm told. She wanted him to take a job up north. Some family business. Long silence. Fury? God, I'm going to have to change network at this rate -
“I'm here, Phyl. Well?”
“Is he taking the job?”
No. Very grateful for the offer, but he's stopping here. Seems she didn't press him. Seems she's just glad to know he's well. There's a few of them, the wife's family.
“How do you know all this? Did he tell you?”
No, Mallory told me. Did you know that little madam with the earphones had been listening in all this while? Heh, I wondered how she got all her gossip.
But the poor girl was nearly in tears. Bit too emotional for her, seems.
Faint sound. Probably a sigh.
You home for dinner? I've got a lasagne on.
“Yeah. Sounds good. I'll just finish up here. Say half an hour?”
See ya then. Bye kiddo.
Section 11: Alexa
Alexa sat in the park alone, watching the sunset. She knew she might be a dumb kid sometimes, despite her twenty three years, but she can see through a grindstone when there's a hole in it.
Her sister’s husband had moved on. He just hadn't said it out loud yet. Well, she wasn't going force him. He'd said they were just good friends, him and this Fury. She wondered how Max ever got on in the police. He was a terrible liar.
It had been six years, after all. So long ago for something that still felt like yesterday.
And seemingly this woman had managed to get him to abandon his alias, and to stay put for long enough for him to blip up on Brian’s magic radar. Alexa liked her for that, even if she didn't know of anything else to like. But that was easily remedied.
So she made her way to Valley Physio.
Section 12: Fury
Fury’s about to lock up to go home and flinches a little when she sees her.
She’d settled a little after Phyl’s call. But she was still shaken by her own reaction to Dave's photos.
And besides, well - it was impossible to miss the evils she’d been getting from her in the café. It maybe looked like - well, like she and Max were together. Which they’re not, obviously. She’s probably here to warn her off.
But she's not a rival, not the kind she'd feared - and Fury now knew now how completely fucked she was in that respect. And the girl’s eyes were swollen with crying. Sympathy welled up.
Alexa approached Fury warily, and introduced herself.
“You must wonder what all that was about earlier.”
“I've heard a bit about it. You're Max’s sister-in-law?” Fury replied, a little awkwardly.
“Yes. Well - Max is the closest I've got to a big brother, you know? Which is why I have to speak to you.”
Here it comes, thinks Fury.
“I wanted to thank you - ” Alexa paused, voice a little shaky, “For being there, someone he can talk to. I wouldn't have found him otherwise.”
Fury looked at her a little confusedly. This was unexpected. “He's got good friends here - Sid, and Di, and - ”
“He's a lot more together than I'd expected to find him. I didn't know what I'd find, really.”
Fury just nodded. She'd wondered too how bad it had been at the worst times.
“And then I come along and give him a hard time for it. Like I didn't want him to be happy - ” Alexa shook her head in self-reproach. “But we talked and - well, I'm glad, you know?”
She shrugged expansively and moved toward the door. “I should go.”
Fury couldn't let her go under the impression that she had done anything. So she called after her.
“He helped me first. Before he went away. I owe him a lot.” And she has to say it, probably shouldn't, but - “And - I'm sorry about your sister. And your nephew - it must've been awful.”
Alexa looked round at Fury, smiled a brittle smile and abruptly turned away. “I've got to go. It was good to meet you - ”
Fury's eyes followed the departing figure as she picked up the keys and set the alarm. She grabbed her phone on the way out.
The text was Max.
‘You finished work yet? I really need to talk to you. Can I come over?'
The German harpsichord opera thing is ‘Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht’ by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Basically a song about eavesdropping. And a girl who’ll give up everything for coffee…except sex. Who knew?
I named the barista after Mallory Archer. Because of her spy skills, obviously.
Though I see I’ve gone and spelled her name with two Ls. Probably because of Enid Blyton.
This chapter’s song is Here Comes The Rumour Mill, by The Young Knives.
Chapter 19: Runaway
Before you find it’s too late
Cause you know how love slows you down
From the moment she lost her mother, Fury’s youth was spent in isolation, building a hard shell around herself. No boyfriends, no nights out with friends, no drunken one night stands.
Before, she’d felt protected and safe, free to do whatever took her fancy, to experiment. She’d had already had her first sexual experience at fifteen with a boy in her class, a fellow Blackthumb.
Frag was about to move to Dubai with his parents and she'd always quite fancied him. She was curious, she felt ready. So, ever impulsive, she'd made a move, he'd responded enthusiastically, and it had proceeded from there.
And it had gone quite well. She would have kept in touch if she hadn't felt the need to break off ties with school friends, even those thousands of miles away.
But that felt like a lifetime ago.
In those six months when she had Val back in her life, going out on the pull wasn't top of her list of priorities. She was still rediscovering herself, and she had her friend.
But Val was gone now, and she needed some distraction from the ache that was left in her place. So, at the age of twenty-three, she decided to make up for lost time.
But she still had to protect herself. The habit of putting up barriers still remained. And what better way to do that than to avoid getting attached?
She'd been friendly, she’d asked questions, she'd flirted, she'd laughed, she'd taken them to bed. And she'd enjoyed it. She’d got what she wanted, while keeping her distance. Figuratively speaking, anyway. It was fine. It was good.
The Mothers didn't know any different. They didn't really know how how she'd isolated herself all those years. For all they knew, she was just being herself. Maybe she was, really.
The change wasn't lost on Ace, but he never really called her on it. He probably figured she was just glad to have friends, family again. She hadn't told him much about her mother, but he knew she had been alone in the world.
And Ace knew she just wanted a bit of fun. He was protective of her though, like she was of him. They vetted each other's boyfriends, and were unsparing in their criticism. Only difference was, Ace was looking for a long term relationship, while Fury was definitely not.
"I'm just reminding you, don't get attached.”
Damn it, Ace. He'd warned her, and she'd been so arrogant. She thought she could handle it. She wasn’t like him.
Fury’s got to stop kidding herself - she has failed abysmally. She should have known - she KNEW she was letting him in.
She’d definitely been attracted to him from day one, but she’d pushed those thoughts away, for reasons.
Besides, Max wasn’t like one of those guys she’d hooked up with in the past. He was better than that.
Over the months she’d got to know him, he’d become her closest friend.
But yet, she really really wanted to pin him to the wall whenever she saw him.
And because this did not compute, she tried to ignore it. In her more sanguine moments, she saw it as an interesting experience, probably good for her personal growth, that sort of thing.
When she was tired or stressed, it made her want to pack up the Rig and get the hell out of there.
But she'd just been forced to take a good look at herself. This whole business with Alexa - it had stripped away her illusions.
How she'd felt when she thought Max had someone else. Seeing the photos on Dave's phone - she'd barely glanced at them, but they might as well have been seared onto the inside of her eyelids.
On the park bench, her head resting on his shoulder, his arm around her. Holding her hand, looking love and comfort. It hurt.
She kept thinking of how it would be if Max was hers. And she was his. All these little flashes of domestic life taunted her. It wasn’t fair, she had never asked for this, never wanted it.
She hadn't been left to suffer long, though. Within the hour Phyl had told her that his sad history was the talk of the town, how his dead wife's family had finally tracked him down. How Mallory from the café had been reduced to tears by the scene, so much so that she'd finally admitted that she was a regular listener of private conversations to while away the hours serving coffee.
And then he had come to her, all breathless, and told her everything. They'd discussed the job offer, she'd even pointed out how it might be good for him. Like the friend she was trying to be. Stupid, stupid, what are you doing?
Her relief when he shook his head with an unusual determination. ‘I'm not going’ was all he would say. No reasons, but she could hardly expect him to be verbose, especially after the last couple of days. He looked drained.
So it wasn’t impossible. He could still be her Max. If he wanted to be. If the universe decided to grant her exactly what she’d just decided she needed.
But the odds were slim, and she was afraid.
Phyllis knows it’s time to stage an intervention when Fury’s like this. She’s running for hours almost every day when she's not at work. Any spare time is spent tinkering angrily with the Rig.
She maintains a determined 'everythings fine' front, but those who know her best recognise her defense mode.
So Phyllis calls round at Sid's place, and approaches Max with a worried expression and a conspiratorial demeanour.
"Right, this might sound a little weird - " she began. “Fury and her running, its great normally. Keeps her fit, endorphins and all that. Fine. But - when she's got something on her mind, like now, she goes off route, doesn't seem to know or care where she's going - she overstrains herself, sometimes gets lost.
We got her a GPS watch and keep an eye on her whereabouts on Al's laptop. But, look, just in case we can't go and bring her home - and if she's in a bad way the bike's no use - will you help? You've got a car - "
So Phyllis installs the GPS app on Max's phone and gives him the login details. It does feel a bit weird, like Fury's been tagged. But Phyllis assured him she'd agreed to the arrangement for everyone's peace of mind, Fury's included. Max thanks her. He tries not to check it too often.
He hasn't seen her in ages. She's always at work, or sparring with Ace or running. He gets the occasional friendly text, that keeps him going, but he looks up every time he hears footsteps and even Sid has started teasing about how often he checks his phone.
Which is why he doesn't attempt to hide when he sees her turn the corner on the opposite side of main street.
He's got Mrs Rennie's arthritis prescription and some bits and pieces for dinner tonight, but has a hand free for a wave. He normally tries to duck out of sight because she always stops and he feels guilty for breaking her rhythm. But its so good to see her -
She waves back and keeps on going. He feels like he's been kicked in the gut.
Has he done something to upset her? The misunderstanding about Alexa was so brief it was practically nonexistent. She'd been congratulating him on being the town talk; for keeping the good people of Valley Haven in gossip for weeks. It didn't seem to have knocked her off her stride.
Why would it? he reminded himself. He's 100 percent certain that he's NOT going to go north to run Frankie's business. They'd talked it through. And he can tell she believes him. There is no issue. Unless she doesn't want him around - ?
He's taking this too personally. It's not all about me, he reminds himself.
He's always felt he could do something to help her. But if she won't talk to him, come near him - all he can do is be there.
"Careful! You'll trip on that" a voice roused him from his pained reverie. "Hmm?" was his eloquent response.
"Your face. What up? Saw Fury back there. You not going to run after her?" Althea inquired, with a knowing smile.
"Blanked me." Max shrugged, then cursed himself for saying that much. Althea had an uncanny way of getting the most pertinent information out of people. Her bluntness surprised you into being blunt back, often to your own detriment.
"Blanked you?" she looked surprised.
“Well, no - not really. She waved, but - "
“She always stops."
Althea snorted. “She's never bloody well stopped for me."
Max's expression must’ve been something conflicted at this point.
“Well, I wouldn't take it personally.” Althea dismissed him. “You best get a shift on. Mrs Rennie's knees are killing her, so I've been told."
She patted him awkwardly on the arm and continued on her way, muttering and shaking her head "She always stops - phew, these kids - "
Phyllis called him up one afternoon.
"Can you go get her? She's been out for more than three hours, and it looks like she's stopped. Somewhere off the Oilfield Road, out Gastown way. Can you check it out and get her? Are you busy? Don't worry if you're busy, I can go - "
Max finally managed to make his words heard. Usually unflappable, Phyl was babbling in her distress.
"Don't worry, I'm on the way. I'll keep you posted." He left it at that.
Max drove, keeping half an eye on the phone to check that her location hadn't changed. He had only paused to fill a couple of water bottles and to grab a packet of biscuits from Sid's kitchen. He always kept a blanket in the car.
She'd only moved about half a mile in twenty minutes. He tried not to think of what that could mean. Don't be so bloody melodramatic, he told himself. She'll be fine, just tired, probably a bit tetchy. It'll be okay, just calm the fuck down.
Twilight was falling as he spotted her in a dingy residential street. She was crouched by a wall, a car pulled up next to her. A young guy was leaning out the driver's door.
Fury looked panicked. Max pulled the car up and got out, approached carefully. As he'd hoped, the young guy was only concerned.
"You sure you okay?"
He seemed reluctant to drive on, despite her pleas of "I'm fine, please, I'm okay"
"Fury?" Max called, a short distance away. She looked up at the sound of his voice, then sighed deeply and slumped down into a sitting position by the wall. Was she wiping away tears?
"You know her?" the young guy asked Max, then turned back to Fury "You know this guy?"
She nodded, smiled, sniffed, wiped her eyes. The young guy shrugged and conferred briefly with the passenger, a girl about the same age. The car pulled away.
Max ducked back into the car for a water bottle and the blanket, and sat down heavily beside her, on her right side. His crouching days were over.
Fury looked at him pitifully. "Max - why do you keep doing this?"
"Picking me up."
There was a pause as her ears registered her own words. She made a sound between a laugh and a sob.
"Lifting me up. When I'm down. I mean."
Max thought back to the first time he’d driven home. That was what she was referring to. But her words made him think of something else. He thought for a moment. What was it? This was going to annoy him. Oh yes - !
She blinked. "What?"
"Tiramisu. Means 'lift me up', something like that."
She put her head in her hands and sighed, her shoulders quivering. He looked at her in concern, till she looked up at him. It was okay, she was smiling.
"You lovely fool." She shook her head and sighed again, even more deeply than before.
Silence. He didn't mind silence, as long as she was there, and had been smiling, albeit briefly. He could wait.
She spoke again. "Mmmm. Tiramisu. We need to make some of that."
"I dunno. It's tricky, I heard."
Fury gave him a very serious look. "Phyl's got a new recipe. She made it at Christmas. It’s very good."
Max made an approving noise.
Fury rested her head against the wall. After a few minutes she took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"I got scared. Depending on people. It's dangerous."
"l know. Me too."
Fury closed her eyes tightly to hold back the tears that were attacking.
Max added, "But it's good. To be scared. Shows you got something you haven't lost yet. Rather be scared than numb."
She nodded. If she spoke, she would cry. She hoped a squeeze of the hand would say it all.
"What I can do?" he asked.
Tell me you love me and never ever leave but no, she didn’t say that.
What she did say was -
"I threw up in that old guy's garden.”
His face scrunched up very slightly as he turned to see a elderly man peering over a wall at them.
"I'll sort it." He gave her the car keys, a squeeze of the hand and went to clear up her mess.
"I'll be your dog" Fury muttered, rubbing her face with her hand.
She honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Runaway, Loleatta Holloway and Salsoul Orchestra
Here’s the thing about tiramisu.
Chapter 20: Ain’t Nobody Going To Goa
Fury sees the light.
Fury lay awake for hours after Max drove her home. She'd been at rock bottom, worn out, miles from home and there he was, looking for her. It gave her a strange feeling. Some kind of sign that maybe everything would be alright.
She's coming round to the idea. See how this thing with Max might work out. Take a risk -
Tomorrow she would think about it, rationally evaluate how he feels about her, in a calm and level headed manner.
That decision made, she slept soundly.
What a day, what a lovely day.
Saturday morning, sun shining, birds singing. And a text from Max saying - basically just 'good morning'.
All’s well in the world.
Fury's on her way into the clinic, coffee and cinnamon bun in hand, when a voice greets her from the other side of the street.
"Hey, Fury! Could you tell Max next week is fine?"
It’s Sid, waving at her from the ute.
“For shifting his stuff, I mean. He doesn't have much, I know. It’s mainly the car."
"Okay - " she replied, not having a clue what Sid was on about but hoping to catch up before this became obvious.
"I hate to kick him out like this. It's just – well, we're refitting the garage as a spare room, Dianne and me, for when the little 'un comes.
"Oh. Congratulations, by the way. I don’t think I’ve said - "
"Thanks!” Sid beamed. “We’d just found out when Max showed up, but because he never sticks around long, I didn’t think it’d be a problem.” He laughed. “Phew, I thought he'd be long gone by now - !”
"How long did he stay with you before?" Fury took the opportunity to ask. She’d often wondered, but it’d never come up somehow.
"'Bout a week. Ten days tops."
“Shit, is that the time? Gotta go. So you okay to get his stuff in - ? Wait, it is you he's moving in with, right? He said he could stay with a friend, so I just assumed."
"Mmm" she nodded.
"Great" nodded Sid, satisfied with the reply. "See ya!"
All day Fury's head was in a whirl with conflicting ideas. She knew he’d been in Valley Haven a couple of times before. While she’d been living there. She’d wondered how their paths had never crossed.
But only a few days? No wonder she had never seen him around. What was different this time? She hoped – no, stop it. But Alexa had been so determined to thank her for keeping him here - ? How could she not hope that she was – that she had something to do with it?
But – staying with a friend? What friend? Someone local? Ace hadn’t mentioned anything, or Dave. Is there someone else she doesn’t know?
And why hadn’t he mentioned that he had to find somewhere else to stay? He wasn’t just going to up and leave? But he’d done it before. Left with no word.
Next week - -
Her heart sank. He’s probably had a change of heart about taking that job. She groaned as she thought of how off she’d been with him lately.
Too much uncertainty -
She heads straight for the garage when she gets home. By and large, she just does little token jobs on the Rig. Modifications, tarting up the interior, that sort of thing. Hobby stuff.
By default, she only tinkers with her properly when she's thinking, or feeling a bit low, or having a minor meltdown. Which is probably why Althea has had a face on all afternoon.
Fury grabbed the crawler and disappeared underneath to check the fuel lines.
Then she hears footsteps. Inevitable, really.
"What's up, girl? Haven't seen you in under that thing for a while.”
Fury doesn't want to talk. She needs quiet, space to think. And she knows Al is hard to get rid of when she's on the scent of a problem. She hates being short with her, but -
"Leave me alone, Al. It's my business."
“Yeah, but - "
"I just need to figure this out for myself, okay?" Conversation over.
"You'll be all over engine oil, you know that?” was Althea’s parting shot.
Fury gritted her teeth. She had wandered into the garage in a brown study and had got stuck right in without thinking of what she was wearing. She wouldn't have worn this, ideally.
She sighed. "Doesn't matter."
Fury needs music to settle her buzzing thoughts. Her phone is in the kitchen and she can't face seeing anyone right now. So, once the coast was clear, she slid out and dug the dusty old DAB radio from cupboard. It's tuned to PBS. Miss Goldie. Fine, that'll do.
She’d shared usernames with Max so that they could share music. He was ’LittlestHobo’ – dammit Ace – and she was ‘thefuriousvexation’, from something Dag had said the first time she met her.
It had been one of her better ideas, getting him that phone. Of course, the advantage of listening off her laptop was that she could see what he was listening to at that moment. So she was well acquainted with what he liked, and she’d grown to associate it with him. She always would, even if he went away.
Late one night he was listening to Smokestack Lightning and a very pleasant shiver had shot right up her spine. Her resolve was sorely tested – she could’ve happily gone right round to his place there and then.
He listened to a lot of Howling Wolf in the early hours. Maybe he did have a touch of lycanthropy. But seriously though, if he was awake at 2am, she had no business going there with the purpose she had in mind.
And that’s why she thought she wouldn’t get attached. Ugh, what did she know, anyway?
She got stuck back into the task at hand. Her mind drifted in time to the old Motown tunes that were playing, but her thoughts kept orbiting the problem. It was a big problem, after all. It had gravity.
‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ soothed her, as if she was talking it out with her Mum. The knot of anxiety unwound a little, but then she thought of next week and what it might bring. ‘Dancing In The Street’ was wrong for her current mood, it distracted her.
‘Try Me’ was equally distracting, though in a very different way. She found herself lost in a slow-dance daydream, face flaming all the while at her own sheer ridiculousness. It was torture, but she didn’t move to switch it off.
‘Nothing But A Heartache’ might be her future if he really wasn’t interested. But it really was true what Max had said about the saddest lyrics having banging tunes –
Goddammit. He could be gone next week.
‘Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy’ was just irritating. yeah I might’ve done if my life hadn’t been a complete fucking SHITSTORM.
This was useless. Her thoughts were just going round in circles. So much for calm and level headed. What the hell was she going to do?
Fury groaned. She really needed some answers, and quickly.
Boink - - doop-doop doop-doop doop-doop
Fury recognised the intro as one from Blues Brothers – and – shit -
‘I'm so happy to be here tonight, So glad to be here in your wonderful city, And I have a little message for you, And I want to tell every woman and every man tonight, That's ever needed someone to love, That's ever had somebody to love them, That ever had somebody's understanding, That's ever had someone to need your love all the time, Someone that's with them when they're up, Somebody that's with them when they're down, If you had yourself somebody like this you better hold onto 'em, Let me tell you something, Sometimes you get what you want, And you lose what you have. There's a song I sing, And I believe that if everybody would sing this song you can save the whole world. Listen to me – ‘
She didn’t do handsprings like John Belushi. But she did get into the drivers seat and turn the ignition -
It was a disgruntled Althea who came back into the house. Fine, last time I’ll try to help –
But when her ruffled feathers had smoothed down a bit, she was glad – not glad, but – appreciative – that Fury had admitted there was something wrong, albeit obliquely.
An hour later, after listening to intermittent clatterings, bangings, muffled swearing and occasionally the sound of a wheel being kicked repeatedly, she turned to Phyl.
"I think our girl's got something on her mind."
"She won't talk to me. Maybe the boy can help. You got his number?"
"Don't interfere, Al. She won't thank you for it."
An engine fired into life. They both turned to the window to see the Rig drive out of the garage and turn onto the street, tearing off at a hot pace.
"Okay, maybe now it's time to interfere."
st up w fury gone off in rig
Max calls Fury's number. It goes to voicemail. He tries again. Still nothing. A sick feeling floods over him. He doesn't know why. If she was driving, she’d be ignoring texts anyway. But the Rig? He didn’t even know it was roadworthy.
She’s been distant lately. Absent, drifts off mid-sentence. He thought she'd been avoiding him. She’s been working on the Rig a lot too. Sid said she'd been kind of distracted that morning. He didn’t say what they'd been talking about, but it'd been hard to get more than a couple of words out of her.
He tries again. Nothing. Right.
He fires up the engine, puts it into reverse and turns to look behind him when he hears a hand bang loudly on the side of the car. The passenger door opens and a breathless figure drops in beside him.
“You going somewhere?" she asks.
“No. Are you?"
"You're on foot? Where's the Rig?"
"She didn’t make it. Needs a bit more work. Left her - " She waved her hand, trying to catch her breath by saving words " - few blocks away."
"So – you’re not leaving yet, then?" he asked, trying to make a joke of it. To hide the fact that he’d been completely shitting it five minutes ago.
"No, but - "
Max focused on the Magic Tree hanging from the rear view mirror. But means soon. That’s what’s coming.
“But if I ever did - would you come with me?"
He looked at her, surprised. He had not been expecting that. What’s more, Fury looked as tense as he felt. Waiting for him to speak.
Which was the reason Max chose not to speak at all. He wouldn't find the right words, he never could.
He just leant in and touched his forehead against hers, in that old gesture he'd seen on her doorstep so long ago. Hearing her contented sigh, he took a gamble, tilted his head slightly and brushed his lips against hers. And his luck held out.
The gearbox was in the way, but that didn't matter.
She broke off from the kiss abruptly and opened the passenger door. "Come on, get out the car."
She came round to the driver side and drew him out of his seat.
"Making sure you're not gonna drive off."
He smiled and shook his head quickly, because she was going to kiss him again – then she paused.
"So, was that a yes?" She eyed him warily.
"Who's the fool now?" He shook his head deprecatingly at her and moved to kiss her again. She pulled away.
"Just say it - "
“Yes – yes - yes"
She'd been waiting for this so long, months. Years. The thought of him would keep her awake at night, even when he was just a half-glimpsed fantasy. And when she got to know the real man, it was so much worse. Or better.
And now - when he moved against her just there - and his hand drifting up her leg 'til she was all too aware she was just wearing a shirt summer dress, and it would be so easy to just - and she'd wanted this so long.
And then she realised. Idiot. So fucking stupid. Wanted this so long - ? Yeah, so much so that you didn't think to carry any fucking – aagh goddammit. So she pulled away a little.
“Wait. Stop. Hang on - ”
"Sorry - too much?" He looked mildly horrified that he'd gone too far.
“No, no, I want to. I really do. But, haven't got any - you know - ”
He just looked relieved. Maybe he had some? But no. His suggestion? Improvise.
"Improvise? Who'd you think you are, McGyver?"
She watched him in curious fascination as he turned about abruptly and slammed the garage door shut. Well, tried to.
Unfortunately the back bumper of his car was in the way. No matter. He slammed it harder and it closed enough to be able to shoot the bolt home, at the cost of a godawful metallic screech and a clang as the shiny chrome bumper relinquished its hold on the car.
"I'm so glad it was you who did that" was all Fury could manage. That’s commitment, she thought.
“Now get over here and improvise."
So this was how Fury found herself sprawled limply on the bonnet of Max's car, getting her breath back, thigh draped over Max's shoulder.
Max clambered up beside her, rubbing some sensation back into his jaw. She couldn't blame him for looking a little smug, she thought, as she'd certainly called him by name at some point, loudly enough even for him to hear where he was.
It was like that song, that one Fatboy Slim one. When she heard the original, she’d thought the lyrics were a bit exaggerated. But now, as she got her breath back, she finally knew what Camille Yarbrough had been talking about –
Then, a little too late, she wondered how thin the walls were, and if Sid and Dianne were home.
Oh who cares?
"Max? Your turn”.
Fury sat in the passenger seat as Max gathered up his scanty possessions
“So finally you're coming home with me - ? I should’ve tried this earlier.”
Max was entirely with her on that point.
“Or. Or we could just stay here" she suggested, playfully waving at his pile of bedding.
He looked at the narrow fold-down he'd been sleeping on for six months. It looked way too narrow now. Besides, it'd definitely break. "No, this'll never do."
He threw his bag into the back.
"You do know Phyl will never let you sleep in the garage, right? You'll have to slum it with me tonight."
His only reply was a kiss which he hoped showed how not-dreadful that sounded.
So, after finally wrenching open the garage door – a hideous scraping of metal that he felt in his teeth - they turned off the light and reversed out into the night. A moments’ alarm as the wheels went over something solid. Shit, what was that? Oh right – the bumper. Won’t be trying to reattach that, then. They didn’t pause to pick it up.
They tiptoed up the stairs. Fury had warned him about the thin walls and Althea's freakishly acute hearing. Accepting, reluctantly, that there would be no further opportunity for much shenanigans that night, they kicked their shoes off and settled down comfortably on Fury's bed.
"Mmm - I'd forgotten how nice a real bed could be - ”
Max was asleep in five minutes after his head hit the pillow. She had intended to lie awake and look at him for a while - creepy? pfff, no - but, after broken sleep for the last few nights, she wasn't far behind him.
Max woke to a flash of bright sunshine and the sound of a voice yelling up the stairs. "Breakfast! It won't be here forever!"
Letting disorientation and comfort argue it out between themselves, he rubbed at his eyes and remembered last night. There was Fury crossing the floor, straightening her dress. A new one. He raised himself onto an elbow. Yesterday’s had been tossed into a corner. He’d definitely Got Lucky. Though he did wish he’d woken up a few moments earlier.
"Come on – she’s not joking.” Fury said urgently, tossing him his shoes. “It’ll be in the bin if we don’t hurry. She's done it before."
Sitting at the kitchen table, Max's plate is piled with bacon, pancakes, eggs and sausage. He stared at it and looked up at Fury.
"Is this usual?" He whispered.
“Only when she's in a good mood” she whispered back.
Phyllis left them to it and joined Althea in the garden.
"Well, something's happened."
"Yeah, they must have been quiet. I heard them come in, but that's all. So how'd you know?"
"She gave him that look."
"Not 'til you tell me."
"That 'thanks for making me come' look."
"Oh. That's good, then. Did he reciprocate?"
Sid made it over there about midday, carrying a bent bumper and small packet. He made a bee-line for Max.
“Hey man, got something for you. Don't know what the hell you did to this, but I bet it lost a fight with the garage door. Thought you might be able to do something with it.”
”Also - " he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Fury might want these back? Dianne said to say, congrats and sorry we didn’t get a chance to wash ‘em.”
He put a carrier bag in Max's hands.
Max peeked inside quickly and turned a little pink. "Um, sorry about that - ".
"That's alright, it made for an entertaining evening and we didn't have anything else on. We thought - 'oh, here's drama' when Dianne saw Fury running up the road full pelt, not in her running gear either.
He waved the bumper “Then this must've happened. And after that - well, I owe you. I thought Di was too far along to be up for it, but you'd be amazed what a bit of live audio porn can do."
Max made a strangled noise in his throat. "You mean – you - ?"
"No, no, only after you drove off. Dude, seriously?” He had standards. "But the great thing is about only having audio is - you have to guess what's going on. You know, they could make a great gameshow out of it: call it 'What are they doing now?' Here, can you settle a bet - ?"
The silence, even in Max’s company, was even more profound than usual. Sid stopped mid-sentence to look at him. Max's face was a picture, mainly in shades of vermillion. He probably should’ve kept the game show idea for another day.
"Too much?" Sid inquired, apologetically.
"Little bit - " Max choked.
"Sorry, sorry - runaway train of thought. But, hey, we're happy for you! It's all go now, right?”
"Think so. Hope so. Yeah” Max looked serious enough but Sid knew by now that he was practically capering. “Thanks. For everything. Really.”
"Hey, whatever." Sid shrugged diffidently. He was glad things were looking up for the guy.
"Sorry about the door."
"No worries, it’s going on the skip next week anyway. Rusty as fuck."
"Want a hand?"
"Nice one. See ya." Sid walked off, waving at Fury who was listening just over there.
Fury sidled up to him. "That'll be mine, then?" nodding at the package. She looked back at him with a slightly pained expression.
"Embarrassed?" she asked.
Embarrassed? He’d wear them as a hat if he could if he could get away with it.
This chapter’s title is an ungodly compound of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘Ain’t Going To Goa’
Ain’t Nobody, Chaka Khan
Ain’t Going To Goa, Alabama 3
Forgot to add the list of songs mentioned. Here they are!
Smokestack Lightning, Howling Wolf
You Can’t Hurry Love, The Supremes
Dancing In The Street, Martha and The Vandellas
Try Me, James Brown
Nothing But A Heartache, The Flirtations
Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy, The Tams
Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, Solomon Burke
Chapter 21: House Party
Max embraces domesticity.
House Party, Fred Wesley
When Fury found out Max wasn't sleeping on Sid's sofa, and was actually bunking in an unheated garage, she'd fought down the urge to physically drag him to the garret flat. Because verbal persuasion was doing very little. This was clearly a man who didn't feel the need for a fixed address. Another reason not to get attached.
But Max ended up raising the issue himself, in the back seat of his car right after they’d come to something of an understanding.
"You know Sid’s converting the garage, right?”
“I heard something about that - ” as if the news hadn't shot her whole day to hell.
"Well, I’ve been meaning to ask – is that roof room still going spare?”
After Sid dropped off his package, Fury disappeared up the stairs to move four rooms worth of boxes single-handed.
“Wait - ” He called after her. "Have you checked it’s alright with them first - ?"
No reply. Max concluded that Phyllis and Althea could be relied on not to object.
The Mothers’ garret flat had been used as a box room ever since they'd used Keep’s bequest to buy the entire building. The old house consisted of three separate apartments. They had been renting the middle one, which spanned two floors.
The basement flat was one floor only, but included an extension out the back, and a yard with a good high wall. Perfect for four girls who liked their privacy.
The garret flat, on the other hand, was ridiculously small, with its tiny single bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. All surrounding a living area which just had room for a sofa, a table to eat meals off and a couple of chairs.
In its defence, it had a beautiful stained glass window on one side and a balcony on the other. It had a great view over the town.
Perfect for a single person with non-existent storage requirements, who didn't plan to entertain in a big way. Step forward Max.
They had a garage sale to get rid of the excess. It wasn't a problem. None of the inhabitants were pathological hoarders, it had just been too easy to shove stuff into the attic flat than to get rid of it.
But clearing out was a slower process than expected. There was all Val, Maddie and Keep's stuff to properly sift through. Max almost changed his mind several times, but he saw that the process was cathartic for them.
He thought of all the stuff he'd left behind in his and Jessie's flat for her family to deal with. How he'd just run away. Guilt aside, he wondered if he would have moved on sooner if he'd just stayed and dealt with it.
They had to dismantle the single bed frame completely to get it to fit into the room. It was touch and go about the mattress. They were going to have to saw it in half at one point.
It was a hard day’s work but the girls took a hand. They didn't get out and about much, so they got involved in anything that was going on in the house.
They stood in the attic flat, taking a look round when the others had gone downstairs.
“It is tiny, though - ” Capable demurred, looking doubtfully into the cupboard that served as a bathroom, and the only marginally larger cupboard that they'd just wedged a narrow bed into. Neither room had any windows, just a tiny skylight in the bedroom. It was the living area that an estate agent would enthuse about.
“It's just one guy. What does he need? Besides, he's been living out of his car.” Toast argued.
Cheedo and Dag are out on the balcony. “Ohhhhh, old people are so cute!” squealed Cheedo, watching Max disentangle Fury's arm from where it had snagged onto an old curtain. They didn't really do public displays of affection, but it was obvious they were seriously stuck on each other.
“That's exactly what I mean – there’s no space for entertaining - ”
As they all filed out, Capable took one last look around the flat. She smiled the smile of one who'd just had a great idea.
They'd all agreed on a nominal rent and he moved himself in a couple of days later. It was strange for him to have walls he could call his own again. Fury knew it, and gave him his space. He could come to her when he was ready. Sure enough, one morning a few days later, her phone pinged.
After several unsatisfactory drafts, she replied with a party popper, an excited face and a disco dancing man. Emojis are so much easier than words, at least to the sender. It wasn't entirely what she wanted to convey, because it wasn't precisely what she’d been hoping for, but it would at least be understood as an affirmative.
Max replied. 'Small flat, just room for two’
Ah. That’s more like it. Smiley wink face
Max buzzed about the flat all day, putting things to rights. He went out and got a bottle of red and another of white. Good stuff, too. He bought some tortellini and a tub of pesto from the new deli in town. He had two rings on the hob and no oven, after all.
At six, a knock on the door -
Fury did not have an extensive wardrobe. But what she did have, she tried on. There was the new-ish bra and matching lacy knicks that Ace bought her as a semi-joke two Christmasses ago, when they were both lamenting being single.
Only a semi-joke, because they weren't black and red with suspenders or tassels anywhere. No, they were a sea-green that suited her colouring and, even more surprisingly, they fitted perfectly. Clever boy. She tried them on now and got no inconsiderable thrill from the thought of wearing them tonight.
What to wear over them was the real question.
Phyl was still trying to get the oil stains out of her best summer dress. Besides, the weather had taken a cooler turn. And she didn't want to dress up, anyway, even if she had anything to dress up in.
So she finally opted for a soft peach jumper that fell off the shoulder way too much – and so rarely saw the light of day under normal circumstances. And pair of jeans that were particularly ass-hugging. It'd be handy to have pockets anyway. Not like last time -
Maybe a little bit of makeup was called for - just a very little. He knew her well enough by now -
She knocked on his door, clutching a bottle of Black Bush for old time's sake and a big bag of Doritos.
Although it was a very small flat, there was still a lot to see. Fury nosed about while Max dished out dinner.
The moving-in gifts from the girls merited considerable attention.
Dag had given him a bracket for this balcony railing, with some pots to attach to it. She'd provided him with some trailing plants that would flower really nice. She said she hoped he didn't get hay fever, because these would fuck him right up.
Incidentally, the Mothers had had their minds put at rest that she's not growing weed in the basement. She invited them in one day and they were greeted with a bewildering array of flowers. The seedings had needed extra heat to establish themselves, apparently. Besides, she'd eased off on the weed now she was preggers.
Cheedo had given him a small pile of second hand books. The complete works of Richard Brindsley Sheridan, Cold Comfort Farm and Rilla of Ingleside.
She’d picked the ones that managed to actually make her smile when she was feeling pretty low. After all, a bit of cheering-up never hurt anybody.
And finally, a massive fluffy sea-green sheepskin rug. It's almost big enough to fill the tiny living area. This one's from Capable and Toast, but Max reckons he’s pretty sure it was Capable's idea. He'd been pretty stunned when they dragged it in. And it looked expensive -
Here's how it happened. Toast doesn't know what to get him. She and Capable go shopping, accompanied by Jenny the Cop to keep a safe eye on them.
Capable spots this rug. But it's a whopping five hundred dollars. Discouraged, they move on.
Toast then headed to a junk shop from which she had to be forcibly removed by Capable. She wants to buy an umbrella stand, 'cos it's definitely an antique. But Capable and Jenny convince her that someone moving into an attic flat is in no great need of an umbrella stand at their door. Grumblingly, she agrees.
They go back to the rug shop, where Capable shamelessly flirts with the sales guy 'til he knocks it down to $110, agreeing to put it down as 'seconds'.
She and Toast split it between them, with Jenny chipping in a bit. They argue that she doesn't even know the guy, but she seems determined to contribute.
Toast still doesn't know why Capable was so set on getting Max a huge furry animal skin for his floor. Admittedly, the carpet was so stained and fusty with age that it'd been thrown out. And Max, being Max, said that bare boards were fine and not to bother getting a new one. Splintery boards on bare feet would not be pleasant, true. But a pair of slippers would be as good, surely?
Capable just rolled her eyes and shook her head. Sometimes she wondered how Toast had got her other nickname.
On the sofa after dinner, couple of glasses of wine -
“How's your day been?" he asks, conscious of the domesticity of the question and liking how it felt.
"Well – I met Ace down the gym first thing, then work - usual stuff, nothing too crazy. What about you? You've been busy here, anyway - " She looked round at the immaculate flat.
“I was thinking – maybe I could go with you sometime? To the gym, I mean.”
She sat up straight and put her glass down. “Yeah? Do you think you’re up to it?”
“I think it’s fine. It hasn’t given me trouble for ages now.”
“I thought that was why you didn’t - ?”
“Um – that wasn’t really the reason. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Or you.”
“Oh come on, you’re hardly a beginner. Besides - ”
He leaned in and whispered in her ear.
She cackled suddenly. “I never thought of that. Do you think it would’ve been a problem?”
Suddenly she stopped laughing and looked outraged. “Wait a minute! I was worried about that knee! You had me doubting my professional abilities!”
Max shrugged apologetically.
“Oh my God. You’ve had so many freebies! I’ll be sending you a bill. Massive boner indeed! You’re winding me up.”
“It’s true! At least I’m pretty sure - !” he protested.
“Only one way to find out - ” was his only warning.
Max went oof as Fury tackled him onto the fluffy rug. It was a fairly soft landing, much better than floorboards, he conceded. He made a halfhearted struggle but he’d much rather have Fury pinning him to floor and um sitting astride him, her thighs tight around his ribs – uh oh
Fury cleared her throat after a thoughtful silence. “Okay – I’ll admit – that would probably have got my attention. Not that that would’ve been a bad thing - ”
They looked at each other uncertainly for a moment. It was only seven thirty and they were already on the floor – with obvious signs that at least one of them was interested in taking things further.
“Dessert?” Max asked, breaking the awkward silence.
Fury’s eyebrows raised. “What you got?”
Max grinned wickedly. “Guess.”
“Oh my God. That’s so good.” Fury licked her spoon. “I can’t believe she gave you the recipe.”
“She didn’t. I asked her, but - ” Max paused. Over my dead body seemed a like quite an extreme response to a polite request. “But she offered to make one instead.”
Eight forty five and making out on the tiny sofa. He’d put the Blues Brothers soundtrack on, because it reminded her of the time they’d got trashed and Fury did that thing with her arm. He wondered if she’d make that connection too.
‘Soothe Me’ was definitely the one that did it. It was that kind of song. She was straddling his lap, just brushing her lips over his cheek where his beard ended, occasionally tilting his chin up for a kiss. Max was just taking a moment breathe her in – the smell of her - his hands idly tracing the seams of her jeans pockets. His right middle finger going round and round – what was that? – something kinda rubbery – oh – he moved his hand away.
Either he gave himself away, or she was all too aware of what was in that pocket, but she paused and sat back a little.
“Max – I’m really enjoying this – what we’ve got now. You wanna – maybe string it out a bit longer – ? Take it slow?”
Max took her hand from where it had paused in the act of playing with his beard. He intertwined her fingers between his and kissed her on the knuckle. He didn’t know what to say other than “This is good.”
Slow’s good. He could do slow.
It was getting pretty dark by now so he couldn’t really see her face. But she must’ve been satisfied, because she kissed him once more. He reached over to turn on the lamp.
“Nono, not yet. You haven’t shown me your balcony yet.” She climbed off him and took him by the hand.
Eleven thirty and it’s getting properly chilly despite the blankets. The wine’s all done and they’ve probably commented on every animal, vegetable and mineral than can be seen from up here.
Probably time to call it a night. Besides, Fury’s got an early appointment.
He sees her to the door, wondering how ridiculous it would be to walk her down to hers. Fairly ridiculous, probably.
One kiss, then another for the road – stairs – then reluctant shutting of the door.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Shit, it was really dark in here. He switched on the lamp and looked around - Phew, some changes, he thought –
Fury slowly descended the narrow stairs. She should be proud of herself, stopping things from going too far tonight. It was understandable, that first night, all in the heat of the moment, the sheer delight at knowing he wanted her. But the couple of nights where they’d shared her bed, quietly making out like a pair of teenagers trying not to be heard – that had been strangely enticing. Fury wanted to prolong that feeling. It was a new experience. Of course, that one time when he’d –
Aw crap, why’d she have to go and think of that?
She stopped midway, turned, looked back.
This was not something she could sort out herself. Besides, what she just really wanted was to be naked with him. Early start or no, had she really thought she was going to get any sleep tonight?
She tapped at the door – hey I’m back, I’ve changed my mind haha – she thought with a groan. Probably too late. He’s probably tired, getting ready for bed.
The door opened, and there he was – shirt down to the last button. Her eyes flickered over him and met his. He might’ve been getting ready for bed, but he certainly didn’t look tired.
As they collided, Fury thought Good Decision.
Chapter 22: I Feel Sanctified
The Morning After the Night Before, Part 2
Revenge of The Rug
I'm so glad the sun is shining - To brighten up the day - Cause behind last night - I see things in a different way
I Feel Sanctified, The Commodores
Ace nudged Dave with a wink as the door swung open.
“Walk of shame, plus a killer pash rash - what ya say to that, Dave?”
“I’d say they've done the naughty, Ace.”
“Dermatitis. Washing machine’s broke.” Fury swept past, head high, her mouth doing that twitchy thing that meant she was two seconds away from a pumpkin grin. A definite spring in her step such as one might expect from someone looking as panda-eyed and crumpled as she was.
But – um – there’s something unexpected about her. Ace looked at Dave, who looked like he’d noticed it too
They followed her into her office and stood and stared. And looked at each other. Finally Dave spoke.
“You look kinda blue, Fury.”
Fury looked over her shoulder at Dave like ‘yeah yeah very good’
“No, he means really actually blue. Beast from X-Men blue.” Ace plucked some fluff out of her hair and held it out as evidence.
She went to take a look in the bathroom mirror and laughed out loud. The tap turned on, the toilet roll holder rolled. A few seconds passed. They heard her mutter shit.
“Safe to come in?” Ace called out.
He waited a second and peeked in. She was standing by the mirror grimly scrubbing at her neck and shoulders with wet tissue paper. Which was rapidly disintegrating as wet tissue paper will upon any kind of provocation.
“Christ, Fury, you look like a Smurf with psoriasis!” Ace crowed.
“Oh, it’s not that bad. I’ll get the emollient lotion. That’ll shift it, I reckon.” Dave bustled off, but then turned on his heel at the sound of the clinic door opening.
“Hey guys, it’s Mrs Rennie.”
“Shit, Ace, I can’t see her looking like this!”
Ace sighed. He could have so much fun with this, but there wasn’t time. “I’ll take her. My nine o’clock cancelled.”
Ah, that’s better. Slightly greasy, but extremely well-moisturised and definitely no longer blue, Fury flopped down in her office chair for an overdue breather.
She’d set her alarm last night as an afterthought – she’d knew from past experience that a few hours of the sleep-of-the-just would be worth more than a lie-in while feeling bad about skiving off.
Unfortunately she’d underestimated the time it takes to get dressed in an unfamiliar place. Finding your clothes in dim curtained light, the dread of stubbed toes and unfamiliar furniture.
Not to mention the trauma of stepping on a cold used condom with bare feet. Stepping carefully because there was another round here somewhere. It was like the opposite of dropping a contact lens on the carpet.
She’d intended to go downstairs for a quick shower and change of clothes, but there was no time for such vanities. Fury just had to hotfoot it straight to the clinic just to make it there for 8:45. She hadn’t even stopped to look in the mirror.
I wonder who saw me on the way here – guess I’ll find out soon enough she thought, leaning back in her chair with a smile.
Then she thought how Max would look when he got up, all sleepy and blue and fuzzy –
When she focused on the room again, she saw the box. Finally, it’s arrived! She'd been waiting over a week for that coffee machine. Funny how they wait ‘til you've paid for a thing before they tell you it's out of stock. She'd had to show up on moving in day with a big box of beans from Ace and nothing to brew them in.
And when Ace told her to get her ass home on account of being neither use nor ornament, she hefted the box and walked proudly back to the Mothers’.
Fury paused with a warm contented feeling to see Max's car parked outside. He would be just upstairs.
She was startled out of her reverie by Toast calling from the open basement window, “Hey Fury! How was the shag pile?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “Fluffy!” she called back.
“You'll be picking blue fluff out of your rug for days!” Toast yelled after her.
Fury’s face contorted slightly and she moved on. If she laughed at that it would be her prize snort and that was never a good thing, especially in the open air. Besides, this conversation would only descend into innuendo hell if it continued.
And indeed, when she'd climbed the stairs and nudged the door open with her foot, a well-scrubbed Max was examining the contents of the Mothers’ cyclone vacuum. That was a whole lotta fluff. It's amazing there’s any rug left.
“You look like you could use a coffee. I know I could - ”
Chapter 23: Summertime
This one’s all about the babies.
“One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing - And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky - But till that morning, there ain't nothin' can harm you - With daddy and mammy standin' by”
It’s amazing how quickly things can happen. One minute Max is moving into his own place, the next he’s helping fit out a nursery.
It stopped being a garage the moment the two of them drove out of there. Now the clock was ticking to get it ready for the new occupant.
The transition was curious; from an oily, dank workspace to – eventually – a light, bright room. It was such a slow, gradual process that it didn’t seem to hurt Max as much as Fury had feared, but it was still strange.
But helping out had been his idea, and he wouldn’t be put off. He had quiet moments - how could he not? She told herself not to worry, what good would that do?
But, as the last coat of mint-green paint dried, he turned to her. Forehead to forehead, fingers brushing the back of her head, he murmured
"You're pitying me. I can see you. Stop it."
"Can't help it. This must be hard."
“Yeah, it is.”
Fast forward –
Fury made herbal tea in the proud parents’ kitchen while Max got acquainted with the newborn. It was still wrinkly and was so so tiny –
It wasn’t really tiny; baby weights meant little to Fury but Max had nodded approvingly so she guessed it had been just the right size.
"We're stuck for names.” Dianne admitted, blowing on her steaming tea. “We had a solid one if she was a boy, but about two-hundred options present themselves now. We probably should have said we did want to know what we were having - "
It was a battle for Fury not to be distracted by the sight of Max cradling that tiny little thing like a pro. It was giving her a strange painful feeling right here.
"So what's the top contender?" she asked.
"Sid wants Mamie, after his gran, but it sounds too much like a squeaky toy to me." Dianne made a face.
"Mmm" Fury nodded, noncommittally. "Cute, but - yeah. What's next?"
But Dianne's eye had caught an official-looking letter sticking out of Fury’s bag on the table. "What - is this your name?"
Fury nodded, surprised.
“Err – Erinn - how do you pronounce it?"
"Erinn - nis. Like Phyllis, but with Erin instead of Phyl."
"Hmm. Erinnys. Erin for short. That’s good. I like it."
“Hah, seriously? I’m glad somebody does.” Fury laughed, then a thought hit her. “Hang on - why didn't I think of Erin? I could have been Erin. Max! Why didn't I think of Erin??"
“Erin's good. But you could only be Fury.” Max said, walking the floor with baby, who was starting to fret. He shushed her and fussed over her to no avail, and finally handed her back to her mum.
"Uh-oh, someone’s got a full nappy.” Dianne reached for her baby. “You look like a little Erin, don’t you, baby girl?”
And so, Erinnys Maxine McConaghie got her name. Whether she liked it or not remains to be seen.
There's this kid up the road. His Mum's sick and she's not going to get any better. Phyllis knows her a little from chats over the wall these past few years, but she wouldn't say they were friends, as such.
When Phyl gets a call, she goes round to visit. She assumed Babs just can't get out and about as easily and would like a bit of company. But the woman is a shadow of herself.
And when Phyl asks that tired old question, ‘Is there anything I can do to help’, she didn't expect the answer that came.
“Will you look after my boy?”
The kid’s name is Freddy, but everyone calls him Toots. His father is long dead, and there's no one else to take him. He has an aunt but she's out of the country and Babs hasn't been able to get a hold of her.
Phyllis promises they'll do their best to take him, but she knows it's not that simple. It's only when she closed the door behind her that she thinks she maybe should have asked Al first.
The kid stayed with them a weekend while his mum went ‘on holiday’ to see a hospice where she'd been allocated a space.
She and Al are definitely feeling pretty clucky by now. Toots seems to have taken to them - he's such a sweetie - and his mother can't stay in their flat much longer. They’ve been researching how to go about fostering him. And indeed, social services will want to do a background check on everyone in the building.
Max wouldn’t be a problem. They’d had him vetted as soon as he arrived in town – as they did with all newcomers - so there shouldn’t be any surprises there. But it's tricky for the girls. After all, technically nobody's supposed to know they're here.
“I'll call Jenny" Toast declared brightly. "She'll know what to do."
And sure enough, two weeks later, the social worker called round and asked to meet everyone who was living in the house. On being told the girls in the basement flat were 'away for a few days', she simply said that was fine, they'd already been checked. And showed them the paperwork she'd been given.
"Life's that bit easier when a copper fancies you, eh Toast?"
Toast tried not to look a little smug.
“Yeah, I guess they're not all bad."
It was certainly convenient to have friends in coppering circles. Especially when you were about to squeeze out a screaming sproglet, armed only with one scan to show it wasn’t some kind of tentacled incubus. It had been a concern.
But she’d been smuggled out of the Basement by the all-powerful Jenny and got her scan in secret somehow – not only was little Bud discernibly human, it was a she.
When Dag found out that she, like Angharad, was carrying a schlanger-parasite, she would’ve done anything to get rid of it.
But when they left the penthouse far behind and the choice was now her own, she hesitated. There was still time to think about it.
They moved into the basement, got to know the Mothers. There were only three of them left now, they’d told her. There used to be more living here, but they were gone now.
Dag knew better, but she held her tongue. She’d talked with the Old One for many a long night when she was afraid to sleep. It was her who got Dag interested in growing things. And here she was, growing a little seedling of her own.
Who the ‘father’ was was immaterial. It could be one of a number. She’d remembered their faces for revenge purposes, but she didn’t want to know which one it had been. They’d get theirs, but they were no part of this. Dag often wondered how Angharad could bear knowing. But no one but Moore was allowed to touch her, so there was no question on that point.
Dag thought it through – constantly aware of the passage of time – how her life would be with a baby –
It was completely at odds with what she’d planned for when – if – she and Toasty ever got away. They’d dreamed of enacting grisly revenge of Moore and all his asshole associates, and driving into the sunset in an Alfa Romeo Spider.
But now Toast talked of law school and Dag’s only dreams were of rich dark earth between her toes. She wanted to grow things.
So she grew little Angharad – Dryad – as best she could and brought her into the world to see what she would make of it.
And not long afterwards, Dryad had a little brother of sorts.
Capable never really had any doubt. Even as a little girl, she’d dreamt of falling in love someday and having a family. What a naïve child, she thought scornfully. She’d known better than that soon enough. Trusting someone had made her what she was today.
She had no idea why Nicks had been different. His face was a contradiction in itself, with its network of scars and those innocent blue eyes. He was one of Joe’s, but he was hers nonetheless.
She’d been right to trust him. But then she’d only known him a few days. He would probably betrayed me before long, she thought bitterly. But that was the old Capable talking – the new old, that was. She wouldn’t look at him through that warped lens. No. No, she knew he wouldn’t have. She HAD been right to trust him.
They hadn’t used protection. Why would they? They didn’t think they’d survive the next 24 hours.
She named her boy Nicky.
Summertime, Ella Fitzgerald
Chapter 24: You Never Can Tell
“C’est la vie” say the old folks. “It goes to show you never can tell”
And then – disaster.
On the eve of the fateful visit that would decide if Toots could stay long-term. They knew by then that there would be no short term. Babs was only expected to last a few more weeks and there was no one else to take him in. Besides, they’d got attached.
Everyone checked out. He wouldn’t need to move schools. He had his own room. They’d even had a huge cleanup, just in case the social worker got the white glove out.
There couldn’t have been a worse time to get flooded. It was an overflowing bath, could’ve happened to anyone. It was just unfortunate that Fury and Max happened to buy the kid an Aquaman action figure, complete with Trident of Neptune.
It would have been a valuable lesson to Toots; having to sleep on the sofa on account of not having a bedroom anymore.
At any other time.
The social worker looked doubtful and shook his head at the setup. Fury saw the man’s pen hovering over the clipboard, Phyl’s look of dismay, Althea’s hand on her shoulder.
This is all my fault. So she stepped into the breach; stood up and declared -
“Wait - I’m moving into the upstairs flat! Isn’t that right, Max?” she signalled to him desperately.
“Toots – Freddy – can have my room tonight – until we get his sorted.”
The social worker nodded approvingly, took a cursory glance around her considerably larger bedroom for form’s sake, and ticked a box on his paperwork.
Fury grabbed Max in the hall as the Mothers showed the social worker out. She hoped she was just paranoid, but look on his face after her outburst had been a cause for concern -
He’d been fidgety, now and then his brow would crumple into a frown. He looked - not okay.
“Max - sorry to put you on the spot like that. I could see what way that was going and – y’know the Rig’s actually really comfortable, but I didn’t think that guy would buy it, so that’s why I said your place instead - ”
“The Rig?” he cut in with a teasing frown. “I thought the Mothers wouldn’t let anyone sleep in the garage? At least someone told me that once - ”
She sagged theatrically. “So you don’t mind? I thought you looked a bit – not okay.”
“I was just wanting to see if we get a double bed up the stairs.”
“Ooh! Yes! - I’ll get the tape measure.” She dashed to the kitchen.
“I hope we can.” Max followed her. “I keep getting that Muppets song stuck in my head every time.”
They couldn’t, of course.
So they ordered a sofa bed slash futon for the living area, and shared Max’s single bed for a few nights til it arrived. Ah well, if it was good enough for Bob Marley, it was good enough for them. But Max guessed Bob and his paramour were narrower than him and Fury, or else they used to make them bigger back then.
Either way, there was much rejoicing when the delivery guys dropped off the new hope.
Granted, it was a sofa bed. It could only be so comfortable, but it was much better than losing half the floor space to a double and getting constantly barked shins into the bargain. It certainly would be comfortable enough for him, but he wondered if Fury would miss her proper bed.
She didn’t seem to mind much the first night, and if they didn’t get a lot of sleep, it wasn’t from being uncomfortable.
The flood damage was repaired and Fury’s room available again, but neither of them suggested she move back into her old quarters. They had got used to each other, and they occupied the tiny space with surprisingly few collisions.
An interesting side effect of the cramped living situation was an increased interest in the Rig. Whether it was to increase the amount of actual square feet they shared, or a subconscious something else, the van underwent a transformation only akin to Cinderella before the ball.
Only difference was, nothing was going to turn into a pumpkin this time round.
It was only a matter of before they figured – if you're going to be cramped, you might as well be moving.
This, now – this is what they’d both wanted, in their different ways. Fury had never travelled and had given up on the very idea. That dream had died with Val, and the Rig just taunted her now – well, it used to, anyway, on her darkest days. She knew deep down, if she travelled alone, she ran the risk of losing everyone she left behind. It wasn’t rational, but there you go.
Max, on the other hand, had used the road as a refuge. But it’d been an empty one. With Fury though, that had always painted a bright picture.
Driving aimlessly for a few weeks sounds appealing. Where would they go? A trip round the coast.
They get time off work. Strangely, Sid grumbles more than Ace does. He’s getting to rely on Max in the garage, especially now that Erin’s here.
But Sid gets a local kid as a part time assistant and they’re free to hit the road any time they like.
They returned four weeks later, refreshed and full of plans. Max texts Alexa to ask her if Uncle Frankie’s still needing help up North. Just in case. You never know.
Fury looked up with interest.
Max read the text and smiled. “It’s on.” He looked at her. “If you’re sure.”
“There isn’t enough bug spray in the world - ” Althea folded her arms. Rather them than me -
“It’s only a year. It’s good to see our girl breaking the apron strings. I never thought she would. We’ll miss her though.” sighed Phyllis, as she waved them off. “C’est la vie – “
Her head whipped round at the sound of a crash from whatever Toots was playing at that moment.
“Goes to show – “ Althea laughed, as she followed her wife. “You never can tell.”
In order of appearance:
Fuzzy and Blue (Sesame Street)
Is This Love, Bob Marley
You Never Can Tell, Chuck Berry
Chapter 25: Learn To Fly
Poor Ace. You’ll get there in the end.
Ace and Dave parted fairly amicably not long after the Rig went north. They just weren’t right for each other.
To tell the truth, Ace needed someone who stood up for himself. Dave would just look hurt if Ace was ever critical, which – he hated to admit it – got Ace’s hackles up. What had started out as adorable was now a bit irritating. Ace knew he’d end up being a total asshole to Dave if they stayed together. Best to end it now.
They still kept in touch, though. Last Ace heard, Dave had got a sales job in a Harley Davidson dealership outside Sydney. Ace was happy for him; it was the perfect job for him, what with his looks and people skills. He was such a nice guy – a bit passive aggressive but really really nice. He just hoped they wouldn’t make him wear a suit.
For the first time in his adult life, Ace was resigned to being single. Stuff just happens or it doesn’t. Fury didn’t plan to fall for a drifter ex-cop and run off to the tropics with him. Ace didn’t plan to be alone. It’s fine.
So he focused on the business. Time to start doing this thing properly. Stop ignoring those conference emails, for starters. Schmooze, have good dinners, make some contacts.
He hadn’t realised the International Physiotherapists Symposium was in Singapore this year. Okay, that could work. Mum had been nagging him to visit for a while now. He could kill two birds with one stone.
…Flicking through the conference materials in the airport, he found his mind and his eyes wandering. That really looked like – someone - ? Then he heard the guy speak. Ace laughed quietly. He’d know that voice anywhere.
…sitting on the plane, waiting for takeoff. His heart’s racing but it’s not a fear of burning crashing death. Well, it is – but the metaphorical kind. They’d recognised each other in the travel pillow aisle. Oh that laugh! It still sounded like a donkey on acid. They’d filled each other in on where they were going and why. Pin was on holiday – ’after showing you assholes around my town so long, it’s time for me to be the tourist’.
Oh God, this was so weird. And so tragic! Ace could’ve shown him around! A mad idea of ditching the trip flashed through his mind and was just as quickly dismissed. Fuck no, he’d look like a stalker.
Final call for Singapore Airlines flight – he’d given Pin his card. Pin had looked at it, laughed and waved him off with ‘I’ll call you if I need a massage!’ That idea made his face glow intermittently during the whole flight.
…touching down at Changi, the phones of his fellow travellers a chorus of pings and beeps, Ace saw that his own had an email notification.
…they exchanged WhatsApp messages all week. It was, by and large, a selfie competition. Ace hadn’t thought to bring the stick with him, but he bought a new one on the second day.
…and of course, Dad had arranged a party for him. Which was lovely. Just a shame that he’d got the dates mixed up. Ace couldn’t bring himself tell the old fella he would be back home by then, so he just changed his return flight to a later date.
…Pin didn’t seem to mind not meeting up. He said it was sweet of Ace to stay longer with his parents. At least he believed him, but Ace would’ve preferred a little more regret. Oh why, though? It’s not like – aagh and he’s so young! Ace lamented. Pin can’t be more than early twenties, while Ace wouldn’t be seeing thirty again. Was this some kind of midlife crisis kicking in early? He already had the MG, would he be trading it in for a Lamborghini next - ?
…Good to be home! Pin did look glad to be back. Ace thought back to his trip to Vietnam with Brick. Two exes ago. How tragic is that? Was he going to measure the passage of time in exes now? No! He was young-ish, free and single! And happy to be so. His phone buzzed again. You wanna Skype later? Oh, didn’t he just - ?
Learn To Fly, Foo Fighters
Pin’s a Ho Chi Minh tour guide. I don’t think it’s a particularly common Vietnamese given name, but apparently it means ‘faithful’. So does Caleb, incidentally ;)
Chapter 26: Just Another Story
All the offstage drama is here.
The girls had arrived, ostensibly seeking refuge from abusive partners or families.
The townspeople were generally sympathetic, agreeing to keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces in the town. They would report back to Phyllis and Althea if anyone new had shown up, particularly if they were asking questions.
Only the Mothers knew the real story. And even then, only a sketchy outline. The girls were witnesses in the Moore case. They'd lived in the Citadel penthouse and would testify against the Warlord in court, given the chance.
They'd previously been kept in a safe house in a large city further off, but it had become compromised and, as a kind of double bluff, they had been relocated to a small town within ten miles of their persecutors' headquarters. No-one would be so stupid as to hide there, right?
They'd been the favoured few, the pick of the young girls trafficked by Moore's Boys. They hadn't been passed round visiting business contacts, mob representatives, corrupt cops or civic leaders. They'd been kept for the Warlord's personal use, and that of his closest compatriots.
Even when he'd been under house arrest, his people had found a way of getting them to him. One of the girls would be sent in as a 'domestic' with the usual threat that, if they breathed a word to the coppers on the door, the others would suffer for it.
Megan, sixteen, lonely, bullied at school, craving friendship, maybe love. Always too trusting. Nat had saved her from a mugging, took her to a café to calm her nerves. He was so caring, he made her feel safe. They met up again and, within months she’d spent the night at his flat. It’d been nice, her first time.
So Megan moved in with him. She didn't quite know how it happened, it was just like a whirlwind. A whirlwind romance.
She loved him, he was everything. And he said he loved her. When he proposed, she'd been stunned, perhaps a little frightened, but so so flattered. Maybe she was special, just like he told her. He could have anyone, but he chose her.
And what did her family say about all this? Didn't they care? Of course they did. She wasn't neglected, living on the street. She had a mother who would probably die for her, a wider family who lived nearby and who cared about her.
Besides, she was a middle class girl from a middle class suburb. She played the piano to grade six level. She would even have got good exam results, she believed now, if it hadn’t been for the bullying.
So of course her mum made a fuss, tried to ban her from seeing him. This man, he was too old for her, it was all wrong. Hah, good luck with that. She was sixteen, she was in love. They didn't understand. They were just jealous because she was so happy and they weren’t.
Then her mum tried to appease her, get to know Nat, tried to keep her close.
And didn't he manage the situation well?
Before long, Megan was alienated from her family, her friends. They just wanted to control her. Well, she wouldn't be controlled.
She was so happy, just the two of them together. But before long, Nat’s friends were always around, there were parties almost every night in his flat. They were nice though, they paid her lots of attention. They made her feel like she wasn’t a just a little kid.
He told her that's how adult relationships worked. That she clearly wasn't ready for this kind of commitment. That she should just go home to her mother.
He would cry and say she didn't love him, not really. If she did, she wouldn't make such a fuss about doing this one little thing for him. She would leave him, just like all the others.
He needed her. It was lovely to be needed.
But she didn't want to sleep with his friend, even if it would clear Nat’s debt.
She helped him out a lot that year. Sometimes three times in one night. She could do it - she knew now that she was capable.
Within a year, she'd been sold to the highest bidder. The Warlord, Joe Moore.
Then Cheedo arrived, tearful and confused. Abandoned by her fiancé. Asking what she had done wrong.
Capable had tried, out of an effort to preserve her own sanity, to avoid analysing how she had got to the Citadel penthouse.
But this was like looking in a mirror and seeing your younger self.
Angharad was the one who'd risked it. She'd got word to the police. Safe police. None of the others was prepared to take the leap. They didn't know until it had already happened.
She'd jumped. Screaming all the way down, to make it look like she hadn't meant to. She didn't want Moore's henchmen to think this was some kind of plan.
She wasn't half as drunk as she was pretending to be, but she'd needed plenty of dutch courage to go through with it. The coke had helped.
With every line, she'd hoped that it would help to numb the pain. Twenty floors up, but a balcony two floors below would break her fall. Or she would miss, and die.
She fractured three ribs and broke her pelvis. Bruised a kidney. They would have to pin her leg together in five places. She’d been lucky.
Angharad had been so drugged up, she barely remembered what she had to do.
“Help - " she’d whispered to the doctor who was prepping her for surgery.
"You'll be fine, nothing to worry about."
She couldn't see the woman's face under the mask, but her eyes were full of sympathy.
“Not me. Other girls. The Warlord's - " she shook her head in frustration at the fog enveloping her.
"Just stay calm. I'll help you. I promise. Don't worry about that now. Just relax, count down from ten for me - "
And she did. Angharad never knew the details, but after she came round from the anaesthetic, the doctor had asked her questions, nodded thoughtfully.
Came back a few days later, asked a few more. By the time Angharad was discharged, leg in a huge cast, she had her instructions.
Someone would come to help them. Soon.
“Not police - ” Angharad urged, alarmed.
Oh god, what have I done? she wondered. Any sniff of the cops and all would be lost. Some of their regular visitors were respected policemen – they’d made it very clear that the girls would not believed if they felt like telling tales. That they’d only make life very unpleasant for themselves - and their families.
"No" the doctor smiled. "But they've got someone on the inside. Someone with special skills."
The others always wondered how it had worked out so well. They were amazed, even angry that Angharad had taken such a risk.
Speak to ninety-nine out of a hundred doctors and they'd go straight to the first uniform they could find. And it would inevitably get back to one in whose interests it would be to keep the whole thing quiet.
How had Angharad just happened to confide in the medic who knew which were the safe people to take it to? Just pure luck?
After the trial
A month later, Moore and his two associates were assassinated in a high security prison. You don't get to be a ‘Warlord’ without making a few enemies. Not that anyone needed to remind the girls that. They were just sorry they hadn't had a hand in it.
There had even been a theory flying around that Zal had got in and did it himself. It wasn’t implausible. But since every scumbag in town was queuing up to take the credit, this was just a speck of grit in the rumour mill.
Two letters arrived. One for Cheedo, containing a few handwritten lines.
‘Cheedo and Za-al, up a tree - ’ Dag singsongs under her breath.
Cheedo shakes her head. “Shows how much you know, Dagmara. Remember de Xavia? They’ve got a thing.”
The girls look much impressed by the news. That was perfect. A heroic ex-con and an Interpol - agent? - whatever. Besides, they’d heard all the stories. De Xavia kicked ass.
“But - of course, I would - ” Cheedo mused. “What? Wouldn't you?” she looked round at the rest in surprise at their peals of laughter.
“Well, I wouldn't - ” Toast began.
“You can stay out of this - you're batting for the other team. Dag? Capable? Back me up here.”
Capable's blush was telling enough. But Dag?
“Come on, white girl. Pink up those skinny cheeks for me” Toast urged her sister, patting at her face.
“Takes more than that to pink me up. But - yeah, I'd give him a test drive.” she grinned wickedly.
“Are you girls really saying you've got the hots for our Fury's dad?” Phyllis stood at the door, hands on hips. “I'm glad she's not here, that's all.”
“What's this now?” asked Althea, looking up from her knitting.
“Dagmara here wants to take Zal Innez for a test drive.”
Dag actually did pink up slightly at this. “Why you picking on me? Cheedo started it.”
“Well, you missed the boat there. He's got a thing with that de Xavia.”
“See? What’d I tell you?” Cheedo crowed. “Wait - how did you know?”
“I've got my sources too, girl. Got to be in the know, in my line.” Althea winked and Phyl rolled her eyes.
Al loved to stir it, and she'd score big points if the girls started a rumour she was a spook or something.
The other letter was for Fury, much thicker. Handwriting's the same on both envelopes.
Dag grabs Phyllis on the way out. “Say, Phyl - ? Don't tell Fury I wanted to test drive her dad, willya - ?”
Zal arrives a fortnight later. He had his own story to tell, which necessarily included the truth about Australian Harry.
Or Hai Rui, according to his birth certificate. Though you'd be risking a severe kicking, or worse, by calling him that.
Harry is his name, though he’ll take ‘Australian Harry’ from close associates who've earned the right to take the piss. Whether he’s keeping score or not is anyone’s guess, but even the privileged few tend to use it sparingly.
Zal is not a close associate, but he calls him that as often as he can. Which tells you quite a lot about Zal.
Harry was Moore’s advisor. He had a hefty stake in the business, and it was in his interest to maintain its position. But his advice had been falling on deaf ears of late.
With his delusions of grandeur, Moore had become a liability. He’d reached out and grabbed whatever he wanted for so long, he no longer realised when he was risking toppling his whole empire. Complacent. He thought no one could touch him. Well, he got that wrong.
It wasn't Zal who killed Moore. It was Harry. He might not have got his hands dirty - he was a bit old for that sort of thing and, besides, he was a legitimate businessman now - but it was him who called the hit. An internal coup, when you got down it.
Of course, it wouldn't look good for that to be commonly known. Bad for business
So if Zal kept his mouth shut, he'd be left alone. As would his family and friends. Indefinitely.
That was good enough for Zal.
And the other burning question - how did Angharad unwittingly lead them out of the Citadel penthouse? How did she find the safe path to freedom? Zal could give them the missing links.
Dr Slaughter was married to an investigative journalist who had taken great interest in the Moore case, having had a brush with the man himself in the past. And who was an inherently nosy bastard in any case.
And this journalist just happened to be drinking buddies with a certain uniform who'd tipped him off about the incident at the Citadel. That a young woman had fallen from Moore's balcony and had been sent for emergency surgery at his wife's hospital.
It was just a matter of her being on hand to see the woman, to see if any information could be gained. It was no coincidence.
They needed luck, and they'd got it. Happily, it wasn't only Moore's pals who had links in unexpected places, legitimate or otherwise.
Fury jolted awake as the eighteen-wheeler rumbled past. God, how long had she been asleep? Where the hell were they? Woozy from sleep and half still in the dream, she looked around for Max.
The Rig was parked next to a high wall. Looked like Max had found the only shady spot in the whole service station. And there he was, sunning himself on the steps drinking from two-litre bottle of water.
She sat for a moment, trying to bring herself back to reality. Then unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the passenger door and climbed out carefully. Fury was only beginning to show, but Bump was getting bigger day by day. It wouldn’t be long before she’d be very glad to be back south again. She did not want to still be in Darwin with a few months to go. Besides – she grinned at the thought – it’d be a hell of a surprise for Al and Phyl.
Oh, it was good to stretch out. She rolled her shoulders and walked over to where Max sat half dozing in the morning sun. He squinted up at her with a smile. “Good sleep?”
“Yeah. How long was I out though? I had a hell of a dream.”
“You nodded off just before we pulled up here. Looked kinda comfortable so I didn’t want to wake you.” He looked at his watch. “About forty minutes?”
“Felt like a lifetime. You know what it was like? That Star Trek where Picard dreams a whole life on another planet.” Fury half-smiled, half-frowned. It was far too real to laugh about it as much as she should.
“Yeah? What happened?” Max moved over on the step to make room and passed her the bottle.
“Well - it was after the end of the world, all desert. Joe Moore was this megalomaniac who was keeping everyone prisoner” She made a half-laughing grimace at Max. “Real nasty piece of work though. We were all escaping - the Rig really WAS a War Rig, skulls, spikes, the works - and the girls and I were driving. And YOU were tied to the front of the car that was chasing us, you had a muzzle on - ”
Max laughed “You’ve got some unresolved issues want looking at.”
“They were taking your blood - ” Fury frowned at the memory, but shook herself. “You joined us, but only after we tried to kill each other.” She leaned in and kissed him.
“It would make for a hell of a movie, anyway” she concluded after a decent interval.
“Oh yeah. On steroids. Shame I woke up when I did. I wonder how it was going to finish up. Wonder if we won - ?”
“Go back to sleep, maybe you’ll pick up where you left off.”
“Maybe I will. But wait. Here, I’ve got a text from Phyl. She says she’s got a surprise for us too - ? Someone’s arrived who I’ll be very glad to see, apparently. Can’t think who that could be.”
“Best get moving then.”
They got back into the Rig and continued homewards.
Phyllis beamed. “Hah! I knew it. A hundred says they’re pregnant.”
“Fury’s asking is this surprise the ‘you better sit down first’ kind? Now, why would she be asking that if she wasn’t expecting?”
“Maybe she doesn’t like jump scares?” Cheedo offered.
“AND. And she says they’ve got a big surprise for us too.” Phyl clicked her fingers. “Right, pay up!”
“No one actually took you up on that bet, Phyl.” Capable pointed out. “Sorry.”
“Well, they’ll be here in four hours, give or take.”
“Are you going to tell her?”
“Do you think I should? Maybe I could just drop a few hints?”
Just Another Story, Jamiroquai
Anyone who watched Coronation Street during 2017 will see that I have shamelessly stolen the Bethany Platt storyline. I’m not sorry.
Australian Harry is based on American Harry from ‘The Sacred Art of Stealing’. Angelique de Xavia is just her own self, only older. For what it’s worth, I see Zal an early 90s Ed Harris
For the record, this is actually my LEAST favourite Christopher Brookmyre book. Which I think says a lot.
Likewise the journalist is Jack Parlabane, Jenny the Cop is DI Dalziell and the anaesthetist is Sarah Slaughter. All are regular Brookmyre characters but don’t actually appear in The Sacred Art of Stealing. Just think yourselves lucky I didn’t throw in Spammy and Hector McGregor as well. I’ll shut up now.
This is arguably Fury Road/Brookmyre/Coronation Street fanfiction right here.
Chapter 27: This Is An Introduction (Epilogue)
And they all live happily ever after
- because you want to know, right?
Max and Fury settle in well to their new stationary life. Baby Val is the apple of her daddy's eye, and is definitely in danger of being spoilt. Thankfully, that's not the Mothers’ way, so there's a happy counterbalance there. It seems to work.
Max has officially gone into business with Sid, a new garage venture. Sid’s the sleeping partner; he’s enjoying looking after little Erin way too much to put the hours in.
Max finally ends up with baby envy and opts to go part-time too so he can look after Val while Fury's doing her Masters. Though that’s only an excuse; it’s not like there aren't enough willing babysitters in the house.
Fury’s doing an MSc in Bioengineering, in case you're wondering.
Ace is dreaming about a nice apartment in District 3. He’s been dreaming about it for so long, it would only take a little bit of persuasion from Fury to make it happen.
Something along the lines of ‘I might just be able to buy you out in a few years’. And ‘stop moping around here and get your ass over there’.
Besides, he’s been ‘with’ Pin for long enough for frequent visits and Skype to be howlingly insufficient.
And just as lack of space in the attic became ridiculous, the girls gave up their lease of the basement flat - - -
Toast enrolled on an Open University bachelors degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. She's been seeing Jenny for over a year now, and they celebrated their anniversary by moving in together.
Jenny’s the only one who's allowed to call her ‘Angela’.
Capable and Dag applied for a small allotment and did a roaring trade in organic produce. Buoyed by their business success, they've got their eye on a small farm on the edge of town. The kids are much in favour of moving out to the country. Little Nicky is saving his pennies for chickens, while Dryad has grand plans for tree climbing.
Capable’s smiling more these days. Ever since a red-haired woman knocked on the Mothers’ door one day and asked for Megan. It seems that Nat was lying – quelle surprise - when he said her mum had died. It had never occurred to her, even then, that he would stoop that low.
Always too trusting. But she'd been right to trust her Mum, at least. She always said she'd come for her. And happily, she'd always quite fancied living on a farm.
And what about Cheedo? The baby, the helpless, the one who needed to be protected?
Cheedo was bad-ass. She'd followed in the renowned footsteps of de Xavia and joined Interpol.
Okay, she wasn't bad-ass yet, and she was only on an internship in Canberra. But it was a good start.
PS the Mothers finally made it to Wasteland Weekend. They didn't get washed out this time.
This Is An Introduction, Damu and the Fudgemunk
(the kirkyverse is now complete BUT is very messy SO I’ll shortly post it all as a single multi chapter fic: probably called ‘All The Things That I’ve Done’)