Tiny yellow fingers of light poking their way through a gap in the curtains and an impossibly cheerful bird woke Robbie far too early. He looked at the bedside clock and sighed, then checked the other side of the queen-sized bed, not surprised to see it was empty.
Despite Robbie’s heartfelt plea at that moment of understanding all those months ago, when promises were made, that he hoped James would still be in his bed when he woke in the mornings, more often than not he wakes to an empty coldness. Even when they stay at James’s flat James still leaves early, pinning a note to Robbie’s pillow telling him to help himself to breakfast.
What Robbie wants in the mornings is James, not a cup of tea and toast. Well not straight away anyway.
He knows why James deserts his bed though - to fly in the early dawn. The nights are theirs but the mornings are James’s time to soar amongst the clouds. And Robbie can’t blame him for that. He’s seen James fly, the beautiful wings fully extended and graceful, imagined what it must be like to leave the mundane pull of the earth and see the world from such a height. The thought is intoxicating.
But then so is James.
He turned onto his back, closed his eyes, hands behind his head, and let the image of James in full flight take him over; watched the long lean body, often shirtless in flight, soar and dip against a sky that was impossibly blue, the clouds completely symmetrical and pure white fluffy companions to the figure that drifted through them. That was the thing about daydreams, they could be as perfect as you wanted them to be, and as erotic images go, this one was … erotic, so he let himself relax into it.
Soft feather kisses startled him out of his dream-state, and a voice that was deep and familiar.
“Wake up, there’s a pot of tea and some toast waiting.”
Robbie forced his eyes open. “You’re back.”
“Hmm, what were you dreaming of? You had quite an indecent smile on your face,” James said. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, neat and trim and fully dressed in suit and tie, smelling shower-fresh and spicy.
“You,” Robbie said and pulled him down onto the bed, rolling them both so he was on top, enjoying the end to the perfect daydream, thinking of how much fun it was going to be to make his always impeccably dressed partner messy again.
The handle of his guitar case had a comforting familiarity and James tightened his hand around it as he lifted it from the boot of the car. It was still light, a bright summer evening with a nearly cloudless sky bathed in pink streaks from the setting sun. The outside spotlights of the church were already brightly lit - enticements set to draw parishioners through the heavy oak doors and into the church’s maw like so many moths to a flame. There were no parishioners this evening though, just his band and the church choir rehearsing for next week’s recital.
He was deep in thought as he headed towards the church. It has been more than six months since the relationship between him and Robbie took a sharp turn into a direction he hadn’t quite been expecting. Now the seasons were changing again and the cold winds of winter had started turning gradually into the balmy evenings of late spring and early summer, and friends to lovers was no longer an impossible dream but a happy reality. That wasn’t the only thing occupying his mind though. Finding out he wasn’t the only one of his kind made a difference; the man who called himself Hábrók and had been his nemesis as a whispering voice in his head for so long was real, not something conjured from his own (deranged?) mind. But that strange mind-bending encounter with Hábrók had prompted other possibilities. James could fly, something he’d been aware of since his teenage years, but what else could he do?
He shied away from ideas of magic; much too Harry Potter-ish – evoking images of witches and wizards and all things supernatural - and he didn’t feel magical in that kind of way. But he could sense a power in himself that remained untapped, something remarkable perhaps, if he could just take hold of it.
He had begun experimenting; just small things a first, like trying to connect with Robbie mentally rather than verbally when they were together, similar to the way Hábrók had intruded on his own thoughts so often, only without the ill-intent of that strange being. But he and Robbie always been close, very much aware of each other’s presence, their minds often linked in some strange way, and their new intimacy had intensified that. So James was never sure that the other man’s reaction wasn’t just that awareness prodding him; although the day Robbie had dropped the file he was carrying and looked around startled when James was conducting one of his experiments had made James feel guilty but also elated that he seemed to be getting through on some level.
Encouraged but not convinced James turned to books on the philosophies of mind control, which made Robbie raise his eyebrows. But it was his own mind he wanted to control, not someone else’s so that turned into a dead end. Meditation helped him focus but after months of effort for very little result he knew he still hadn’t found the trigger that would fully release his potential. He wondered if he ever would.
The sound of voices and tuning instruments interrupted his musings as he stepped into the vestibule of the church. It seemed he might be one of the last to arrive because the front of the altar was already crowded with milling choir members and musicians. One of the guys from his band spotted him and called a greeting, he waved in return then hesitated. He’d left Robbie in the office doing paperwork, there was just enough time to ring him before rehearsals began. Turning his back on the crowd he pulled out his phone and hit the speed dial, letting his gaze wander over the noticeboard in front of him, the ring tone buzzing in his ear.
There was an eerie kind of feeling at the emptiness of the building around him as Robbie worked, the sounds that he never seemed to notice when the rooms were full now phantoms sent to tease him - the creaks and grumbles from the air conditioner that never worked anyway and seemed to send out hot rather than cool air, other sounds he couldn’t identify; even the rustle of paper as he turned the pages of the files he was working on seemed preternaturally loud. He’d been slowly going through their case files long after everyone had left for the evening, finishing reports before marking each as ‘case closed’. Tedious work but someone had to do it and with James off at rehearsal with his band Robbie was at a loose end anyway.
He had just opened the last file when his mobile rang. Robbie couldn’t suppress a smile when he saw it was James.
“Hello, pet. How’s the rehearsal going?”
“I’ve just arrived. Thought I’d give you a ring before we start, wondered if you wanted me to pick up some takeaway after and stop by yours.”
Robbie looked down at the container of half congealed remains of the spag bol on his desk and frowned. “Nah, I got something earlier, no point you coming all the way to mine anyway, seeing as the church is in the opposite direction.”
“You’re still at work aren’t you?” There was suspicion there, and a proprietorial air that broadened Robbie’s smile.
“Just going through some of the files,” he admitted. “I’ll be leaving soon.”
“An early night then and I’ll wake you in the morning with breakfast, yes?”
“Yes.” Robbie felt a warmth flooding him that had nothing to do with the summer night or the grumblings of the malcontent air conditioner.
“Have to go, they’re waiting for me.”
He worked steadily after the call, clearing away more of the files, time slipping by and when he glanced at his watch he was startled to see it was after midnight. Enough, he thought, finishing off the file he was on, the rest can wait another few hours. He got into his suit jacket and headed into the crisp night air.
There was a full moon lighting his way as he drove through quiet streets, the stars white shiny dots reflecting through the windscreen. There was something new world and mystifying coming from the CD player, James’s doing no doubt, and he switched to the radio and pressed the scan button, looking for something a bit more in his league, then hesitated when a song he hasn’t heard for years and that stirred up long forgotten memories of hot summers and oh so serious teenage trysts in secret places filled the car. He shook his head, bemused, but left the dial where it was.
He was turning onto St Cross Road and the song was about to finish when the boy, a young lad in his mid-teens or thereabouts, ran from the pavement and onto the road, right into the path of Robbie’s car. Robbie knew the boy wasn’t going to stop, had barely registered the vehicle heading towards him, and slammed on the brakes, swearing under his breath as the boy was caught in the full glare of the headlights, shocked to stillness and staring at Robbie with wide eyes before he turned and was gone on a mad dash down the other side of the street. Another boy followed a second later, just as fast and careless as the first, but Robbie saw the knife in this one’s hand and an ugly look on his face.
He didn’t even have to think about it but had the car up on the pavement and was out, chasing after the two boys, shouting out his credentials and a summons to stop as he ran, fumbling in his jacket pocket for his phone.
Their footsteps pounded out a rhythm on the pavement that bounced off the buildings around them and echoed back as both boys continued their flight, either ignoring Robbie’s shouts or, he suspected, not even hearing them they were so wrapped in their own chase. Robbie knew he was losing ground so saved his breath and tried for an extra spurt, thanking the regular squash sessions with James for keeping him in reasonable shape.
Then the first boy swerved, turning into the entryway for Holywell Cemetery, the other just a pace behind. Robbie followed. The small wooden gate into the graveyard was overgrown with ivy and stood open. Robbie slowed and stepped through into a tunnel of hedge and overhanging trees that bordered the path. There was an uncanny stillness around him and a darkness only relieved by moonlight and the bitter glow from street lights on St Cross Road. He hesitated, listening for any sounds that would tell him where the two boys had run but there was just the scrabble of night creatures in the undergrowth. Then a scream, high-pitched and threaded with fear drowned even those noises. Robbie turned, wildly searching for the source and saw two shadowy figures locked together amongst the leaning tombstones. He started towards the tableaux, shouting as one of the figures slid almost gracefully to the ground while the other turned towards him his face outlined in the glow of the full moon, the knife in his hand seeming to shine with a light of its own. He stood there not moving, as if unsure what to do next and Robbie had a momentary sense of déjà vu. He’d faced an idiot with a knife before but that time James had been there to save him. This time he was on his own.
“Put the knife down, lad,” he said and risked a few steps closer, only stopping when he was a couple of paces away from the boy. He realised he still had his phone in his hand and started thumbing in the emergency number. The boy still hadn’t moved.
“Come on, there’s no need for anyone else to get hurt. Just put the knife on the ground and we can sort this all out,” Robbie was saying as the operator came on the line. At the same time something hit him hard on the side of the head, sending him to his knees. The world spun into spirals of bright shiny light and colourful explosions as he fell forward onto the ground and the phone flew out of his hand to land somewhere in the long grass. Then the bright lights faded into themselves like so many spent fireworks and everything went black.
Consciousness of a sort returned in what he thought had to be only a few moments later and he heard the shuffle of feet near his head and the sound of voices.
“You got him then?”
“Yeah, he’s over there, won’t be dobbin’ in nobody again. What about this one? He’s a copper you know, interfering sod.”
“Yeah, stupid bugger didn’t even know I was right there behind him.”
“But what are we gonna do with him now, man. He saw me clear as day, when I did for Derryn.”
There was a moment’s considered silence and a foot prodded none too gently at his side before an answer came.
“Well, looks like he’s a dead copper to me, hasn’t moved since I hit him. So I reckon we put him somewhere out of sight. I know a place, used to play here when I was a kid. No one’ll ever find him there. No witness, no more copper.”
“We get rid of the copper first, then come back for him. If we throw him in the river he’ll end up further downstream and no one will even know we was here.”
Robbie tried to struggle as they lifted him – the intention was there, but his body betrayed him and stayed frustratingly inert, then he passed out again. The next time he came to there was no moonlight to see by and the ground was hard and unyielding beneath him. He could hear a voice somewhere above his head and even through the mist that clouded his brain recognised it as belonging to the one who had hit him.
“You get back to Derryn. I’ll finish up here.”
Hands grabbed at his wrists and he was dragged along the ground, the roughness ripping his shirt and plucking at his skin. The hands pushed at him then until he rolled over and he felt the coldness of stone against his face.
The same voice, strangely devoid of emotion this time, spoke through the darkness.
“Wrong place, wrong time, old man.”
The foot that connected with his head set off another round of fireworks that almost, but not quite, obliterated the sound of retreating footsteps and the clang of metal. Just as he began to slip under once more he heard the voice again, only this time there was a mixture of disbelief and fury in it.
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
James pulled the back door of his flat shut behind him and stepped into the high-walled rear garden. It was still dark but the faint glow of dawn lined the horizon with the promise of another fine day. It was the time of day James liked best, the deep quiet of early morning when the world hadn’t yet woken and the air was crisp and clean. His usual pleasure was absent now though as he unfurled his wings and moved them gently, the act flexing the too-tense muscle and sinew of the night before, then surged upwards into the clear sky.
The rehearsal had finished just before midnight and had gone without a hitch, they had no urgent jobs going at the moment, no murders or capital crimes to investigate, so by rights he should have been pleasantly relaxed. But no sooner had he settled into bed than he’d inexplicably been jerked awake by a feeling of dread so strong it had made his pulse race. After that sleep had been impossible and he’d tossed and turned, dogged by a feeling of wrongness he couldn’t explain, until finally he’d left his bed in frustration. Now he was hoping to dispel the miasma of his disturbed night in flight.
He flew in a hard and fast line towards the Oxfordshire countryside, letting the wind ruffle through his wing feathers, not stopping until he was sweaty and exhausted and above the highest point of the Chilterns. It was still early but the sun had risen above the horizon now and the air was warming around him. He hovered, hidden from sight by a bank of low clouds, and let the sweat dry on his skin.
It hadn’t worked, he couldn’t outrace his thoughts and the feeling he was missing something important. Frustrated he turned away from the beauty below and headed back the way he had come, flying more slowly this time until he was above his flat again. He’d do as planned and go by Robbie’s before work, wake him with a cup of tea and promises, and hope whatever was bothering him would dissipate in his partner’s company.
He showered and was just finished dressing when his phone rang. When he saw who it was something shifted inside him and he felt a sense of dread that was inexplicable.
“James, we have a situation.” Superintendent Innocent’s brisk tone did nothing to dull James’s unease.
James looked out through the lounge room window; a cloud had passed over the sun and the world outside suddenly looked dark grey.
“Situation, ma’am?” he echoed
“A young man has been found stabbed at St Cross Church.”
“No, not yet, But it appears touch and go. The thing is, James,” here her tone lost its briskness and became something less sure of itself, “Inspector Lewis … Robbie’s car has been found at the scene, parked on the pavement with the driver’s door open, but no sign of Robbie.”
James froze, his throat was suddenly dry and it took several seconds before he could work up enough saliva to speak, enough time for him to realise the question was inane but not enough to stop him asking it.
“What would he be doing there?”
“If we knew that we might know where he is.” The asperity was back but so too was an underlying worry. “We’re combing the area right now and there’s a constable stationed at the hospital in case the stabbing victim can give us any information. He’s in surgery at the moment so that appears doubtful in the short term.”
“Not being answered. And he isn’t at his flat, it’s been checked.”
“I’m on my way.” James snapped his phone off before Innocent could make any further response.
The drive to the cemetery took less than half an hour, the traffic still pre-rush hour light, but it seemed a lifetime. By the time he arrived and saw the scene of crime tape that cut St Cross Road in half, the knot in his stomach was making him queasy and the sight of Robbie’s car abandoned on the footpath beyond the tape looked like an evil omen
The day was beginning to heat up but James could feel none of it as he stepped out of his car. A constable on duty at the tape waved him through when James flashed his badge and told him where to find Innocent. She was in the cemetery grounds, close to St Cross church, talking to a tall and thin, rather ascetic looking man who turned out to be Martin Grant, the Balliol archivist for the college’s historic collections centre at the church.
“Mr Grant found our stabbing victim this morning when he came to open up,” Innocent explained.
“Yes, he was right over there,” Grant said helpfully. “Huddled at the back of the porch, didn’t see him until I was at the church door. Thought it was a vagrant at first, we get them sometimes, trying to get out of the weather, not that it was inclement last night.” He stopped at Innocent’s look of impatience, then hurried on. “Of course when I realised what had happened I phoned for the ambulance.”
James looked over to where the forensic team in their white coveralls ducked and crawled around the porch with their baggies and test tubes. Innocent was dismissing a disgruntled Mr Grant when he turned his attention back to them.
“You mean we can’t go into the church?” Grant was saying. “The staff and researchers will be here soon, what do I tell them?”
“That they have an unofficial holiday,” Innocent told him. “This is a crime scene and until such time as it isn’t a crime scene no one will be able to enter either the church or the graveyard.
Grant looked mutinous for all of ten seconds before crumbling to Innocent’s implacable stare and backing off. With a not-happy glare that took in both James and the superintendent he turned back towards the church car park, no doubt planning what he intended to say to the soon-to-be-arriving staff members. James watched his retreating figure without sympathy before speaking.
“I gather Mr Grant saw nothing else, and nobody else was in the graveyard.”
Innocent let out a long sigh. “Mr Grant arrives at 7.30am every day to open up, as he did today. He said there was no one here when he arrived and no sign of anyone in the graveyard. Robbie’s car was found when the first responders arrived. The car’s been searched but there was nothing of any relevance found.”
“Which tells us nothing about where Robbie is and why he was anywhere near here in the first place.” James said, while the thought echoing though his mind was and why wasn’t he home tucked up in bed where he should have been. He reached into his pocket for his cigarettes and turned away to light up. Innocent looked disapproving, but didn’t comment.
“There’s a search being made of the area but nothing so far. And we’re checking CCTV but there’s no coverage here so they’re having to backtrack, trying to pick up Robbie’s car. It’ll take awhile though as we don’t have a definite time for the stabbing.” she said, then paused when she saw a uniformed constable puffing towards them. He was red faced by the time he reached them.
“We’ve found something ma’am,” he said.
They followed him through the yews and magnolia and along the weed strewn paths to a place further away from the church – a small grove not far from the wooden gate that led off St Cross Road. A cordon of officers had formed a semicircle around a place of trampled grass and tombstones. Forensics was already there and James and Innocent stayed back, not intruding on the area of interest. One of the forensic team lifted her head at their approach.
“There’s blood, ma’am. We’ve traced a trail of it that seems to be leading to the church where the victim was found. It looks like he was stabbed here and then somehow managed to drag himself to the porch.”
“And there’s this.” Another one of the forensics who was working a little distance away from the main site stood and walked towards them, holding up a mobile phone in a gloved hand. “Found it in the grass over there.”
James looked intently at the phone and recognised its dark brown case with a sinking heart. “It’s Robbie’s,” he said.
“Looks like he was trying to ring 999 before it was dropped,” the forensics guy told them.
James stared at the ground and thrust his hands in his pockets because now they were shaking.
“Right.” Innocent looked towards the waiting police. “I want this whole area cordoned off and the search area extended as far as the river. Inspector Lewis must be here somewhere, possibly injured, and I want him found.”
The police moved to her command and Innocent turned back to James. “When did you last see Robbie and do you know anything about his movements last night?”
James shrugged. “He was in the office when I left at 6.00 and when I phoned him around 8.00 he was still there, but said he’d be leaving soon.”
“So we know where he was in the early evening,” Innocent mused.
“The knowledge doesn’t help though does it,” James said, not trying to hide the frustration he felt, the despair that was inching up his spine he kept to himself. But she looked at him keenly and he wondered what she was taking from his expression.
“James,” she said gently enough. “There’s really nothing either of us can do here, there are plenty of searchers out there and they know what they are doing. I’m going back to the station, see what’s happening with the CCTV. Perhaps you should go home. I’ll phone you if anything turns up.”
James shook his head. “I think I’ll stick around here,” he said. “Check out the church. There might be something there. If it’s all right with you that is.”
Innocent looked as if she thought he wanted to go back to the church to pray for divine intervention, but what he had in mind was something quite different to prayer.
“As you wish,” she said, reaching out to touch his arm. “We will find him you know.”
“Of course,” James agreed, giving her his best smile. She turned then and he watched her walk away before heading back to the church.
The inside of St Cross Church had been gutted when it was turned over to Baliol college as a collections centre – the pews torn out, replaced by tall book-filled glass fronted exhibit cases set against the ancient walls and long wooden tables down what was once the central aisle. Sunlight streamed in from the stained glass windows accentuating shadowy recesses, making them look elongated and larger than they were. The chancel was intact though, the painted angels still looking down from the lofty ceiling onto the silver cross and candlesticks of the altar.
There was a darkly varnished choir stall in front of the altar so he sat down, closed his eyes, took quick deep breaths and tried to focus. Gradually the sounds of the outside world became distant, then faded away and he was truly alone. He concentrated, forming his thoughts, shaping them carefully into words … a name, and projecting them into the ether, trying to connect with his target. After a few minutes he realised it was useless. His former near success had elicited a response of a sort, but he and Robbie had been in the same room almost sharing the same space. Now it seemed they could be on different planets for all the good it was doing him. If any kind of distance was a factor then the exercise was futile.
Dispirited, James opened his eyes and let the world back in again. The sounds from outside the church had lessened, as if the searchers had moved on and James recalled Innocent’s words about the river. But somehow he knew she was wrong, that Robbie was close by, he could feel it. But where?
Maybe he was going about this all wrong, maybe there was another way. Then he remembered something he’d ignored early in his meditation phase as bordering too much on mysticism and not enough on intellect. But perhaps he’d been wrong and the mind’s inner eye, what the mystic writings he’d delved into had called the third eye, was the elusive key he’d been seeking. He thought about it for a moment and decided, mystical or not, it was worth a try.
He gathered himself and closed his eyes again, concentrating this time on centring himself, creating an image of Robbie; the way he looked in the first glow of morning and last dim shades of night, the blue of his eyes and the way he smiled and quirked an eyebrow at something sardonic James had said. When the picture was complete James held it, searching every facet of the image and trying to look beyond, into what surrounded it. But there was nothing, just unrelieved darkness and gradually the image blurred and broke into fragments of dark and light, like sunspots dancing in his eyes.
He shifted on the seat, feeling that he was almost there, that he could succeed if he tried harder, held on longer. He closed his eyes and tried again, sinking deep into himself, going so far he was almost frightened he wouldn’t come up again.
Something opens inside him, a feeling that almost glows it’s so bright, and he grasps hold of it, nurtures it as Robbie’s face comes quickly to him, as familiar to James as the palm of his own hand. He feels a gathering of energy and power in his mind and holds on, uses it, stokes it until it is strong and vibrant. Then he sends the thought out, pushing it as hard as he can.
And an answer comes, hesitant and distant but there nonetheless.
James jumps at the sound of it and he almost loses control but holds on, grasping at the echo of the voice.
“Robbie, you can hear me!”
“‘m not deaf”
The response makes James chuckle and he sends out another thought.
“Where are you?”
There’s a long pause before a response comes, a response that both confuses and worries him.
“It’s dark here, under the boardwalk, out of the sun. No fun though”
“Robbie what are you talking about? I have to find you, do you know where you are?”
“‘m here ‘course. You’re here too, you’re talk’n to me aren’t you.”
The words are full of Robbie-irony but there is a slur to them, like the muddied thoughts of someone rising from a dream. But it is getting easier to do this, the power and energy a part of him that isn’t going to leave now that he’s found it. As well as the mental connection James can feel Robbie - his confusion and pain, and a leeching sense of cold. He gathers his power and projects his thoughts again and opens himself to the answers.
“Are you hurt?”
“Yeah, head hurts. Dizzy. Can’t get up”
“Just tell me what you can see.”
“Told you, ‘t’s dark. Feels closed in like ‘m buried. Get me out James, please!”
“I will Robbie, but I have to find you. Can you tell me if there’s anything you recognise around you.”
“Shadows, like a prison.”
This last is faint, as if Robbie is moving away from him. James calls to him but there is only silence. He tries again and again but he’s lost the contact. Robbie is gone and James knows he can’t bring him back.
James let himself relax out of his trance and opened his eyes, almost surprised to see the chancel and altar still there, inexplicably unchanged from when he’d begun his experiment, when now he was so changed. The sounds of the search were all but gone and he knew they were far away now, too far away to be of any use. He sat for a moment, thinking of what he’d learnt and what it meant. It was little enough but he knew instinctively that Robbie was somewhere here in the graveyard, but where?
The sun dazzled his eyes as he left the church. He made his way to where the blood had been found. It was as good a place as any to start his own search. The area was cordoned off but deserted so he ducked under the police tape and stood looking down at the trampled blood coated ground. He realised now that part of that blood spill could be Robbie’s and the thought made his stomach tighten.
There were no real clues there, at least none that were tangible. James moved to where Robbie’s phone had been found and crouched down in the place it had rested in the long grass. There was a single blood drop there and he reached out to it.
At the first touch the world around him goes hazy and the birds stop singing. Then a burst of raw emotion hits him and has him reeling back to sit on his backside, breaking the contact and snapping him back into reality. Startled and unsure quite what is happening, he gazes at his fingers then at the blood. Cautious now he reaches out again and gently touches the blood. The emotion – fear, pain, confusion – come again, but he manages to hold it back fighting hard for control, and is rewarded when the haze lifts and it’s night. He’s in the grove still but he’s not alone, there are two figures in front of him that grapple briefly before one falls to the ground and the other stands still with a knife in his hand. He starts forward, he’s saying something but can’t hear himself speak, the standing figure turns to look at him and James can see moonlight reflected in his eyes.
Then it’s all gone and he is snapped back into reality, crouched on the ground in the daylight staring at a blade of grass decorated with blood.
The vision clung in James’s mind even when the afterimages faded, making him feel dizzy, disoriented and he had to force himself to stay still to let the world come to rights again. Then the spinning stopped and he could feel the sun on his face and hear the birds squabbling again in the yew trees. He bent to touch the blood once more but whatever it had wanted to tell him was gone and it was just a spot of blood on a piece of grass with nothing more to show him.
He knew what he’d seen had been the knife attack on the young man, witnessed, in some strange way, though Robbie’s eyes - a part of his new-found talent obviously. The thought excited him while at the same time it terrified him. The possibilities could be endless or disastrous. Right now they were the possibilities that could lead him to Robbie and that was what mattered.
He set out walking and tried to concentrate as he went, focussing on Robbie as he had before but there was nothing substantial, just a feeling of almost claustrophobic darkness. It was deathly quiet in the graveyard now, even the birds seemed to have run out of song.
He kept going, moving aimlessly amongst the graves, hoping some instinct was guiding his steps, until he was well away from the path and to where the graves were in disrepair and nature had taken over. There seemed no order to the burials here, where the tombstones tipped this way and that and were hedged in by trees and almost covered in long grasses and ivy.
He would have passed by the mausoleum without a second look if a fox hadn’t darted out in front of him, startling him into a sudden stop as the animal crossed his path then ran on, disappearing into the undergrowth beside the tomb with a flash of its bushy tail.
James moved through the long grasses until he stood in front of the mausoleum. Almost hidden between the two large yews that whispered above, it was home to brambles and ivy that had clambered up the sides, even clinging to the sombre cross that sat atop the gabled roof. There was a chain locked gate at the front and a family name etched into the stone above it but the encroaching ivy and gathering mosses made it impossible to make out the lettering.
The sun had gone behind a cloud, but now it came out and cast the inside of the tomb into light and shadow, the thin bars of the gate making stripes across the floor and Robbie’s words came back to him in a rush of understanding, Shadows, like a prison.
He saw then that the chain lock was broken and reached for the gate; it swung open to his touch. He had to duck to get inside and there wasn’t much room but he could see there was space for four coffins though only three had been interred, leaving a vacancy at the back of the crypt. There was a vague smell of dust and decay that stung James’s nose and it was dark in there, with just a small amount of sunlight piercing the gloom but that was just enough for James to see the shoe that poked out from the darkness. Then he was by Robbie’s side, calling his name and feeling desperately for a pulse. It was there, faint but steady.
James felt suddenly dizzy and weak. He closed his eyes until the feeling of vertigo went away then looked down again. Robbie was lying on his stomach with his head turned to the side. There was an ugly wound just above his ear that was still seeping dark fluid and his hair was matted clumps of congealed blood. James turned him gently but could see no other injuries. He lifted him into his arms and Robbie murmured something querulous, questioning.
“It’s alright, Robbie,” James reassured. “I’m here.”
Robbie settled and James carried him from the mausoleum then laid him on the ground and holding the lax body against his chest he reached for his phone.
The ambulance arrived at about the same time as Innocent, bumping it's way along along the stony track with its lights still flashing.
“How on earth did you find him?” she asked, switching her gaze between the still body on the stretcher, the mausoleum and James.
“Just luck,” James told her, then added at the expression on Innocent’s face. “I was searching the area, heard a noise coming from the mausoleum.”
It wasn’t a satisfactory answer but when James didn’t elaborate she shrugged her shoulders. “He’s found and that’s all that matters,” she said.
James couldn’t agree more, but his attention was on the open doors of the ambulance and its occupants rather than his superior. There was an oxygen mask on Robbie’s face and the medics were fussing around him. It looked like they were getting ready to leave. He only realised that Innocent was still talking to him when she spoke his name rather sharply.
“I can see I’m not going to have your attention, so you might as well just head on to the hospital.” she said. “I’ll send someone to check on you both later.”
James managed a thin smile. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. He felt Innocent’s gaze following him as he made his way to his car but shrugged off the itch it made between his shoulder blades.
Robbie was lying unmoving in the hospital bed; a large dressing obscured part of his forehead, making his face look even paler against the white hospital pillow. He was attached to monitoring equipment and a drip that funnelled IV fluid into his arm through a cannula. The incessant beeps and blips were annoying but also reassured. It was evening now, the blinds on the window drawn tight against the night darkness and the room lit only by the soft glow from an overhead light.
James fidgeted on his chair, stretching out his legs and arching his back in an effort to ease the ache. He had discovered that hospital chairs are not very comfortable and this one, a dreary shade of grey with a straight backed metal frame far too small to accommodate his long body, and a padded seat that had given up even trying to give the impression of softness, was more torture rack than seat. He suspected it was all a devious plot by hospital authorities to discourage long visits to the sick and ailing. To add to the discomfort he was longing for a cigarette. Innocent had been in earlier and sent him off for a coffee and/or food, a walk and a smoke, not necessarily in that order. But that had been a few hours ago now.
He was about to get up and stretch, pace the floor a little to try and ease some of the stiffness in his muscles and edginess in his head when the door opened and a nurse came in. She was young and rather pretty with dyed purple hair, a stud in her nose and tattoos showing underneath the short sleeves of her uniform, all of which vaguely surprised James for some reason.
“You’re still here then,” she said, fiddling with wires and attachments, making sure everything was working as it should. James nodded and watched the numbers and lines on the machines tick along, the ones that assured Robbie was stable. She took Robbie’s temperature next and filled out a chart before checking the drip he was attached to. When she finished she turned a critical eye on James and the chair, and frowned.
“That doesn’t look very comfortable,” she said. “Specially for a long drink of water like you.”
“It’s not,” James assured her.
“Think I can do something about that at least,” she said, giving James a conspiratorial wink as she left the room only to return a few moments later dragging a large armchair. James leaped up to help her. The metal monstrosity went into the corner, and the new armchair took its place by the bed.
“Thank you nurse - ”, James said. “I’m James by the way.”
“Ellen,” she responded. “Nice to meet you James. He’ll be alright you know, just has to wake up,” she said, looking at Robbie.
“So they keep saying,” he replied, not convinced. The doctor on duty in the emergency department had said much the same. Traumatic brain injury he’d called it but the scans had indicated no permanent damage. Robbie had been in and out of consciousness since, not awake enough to be aware of James or anyone else but not completely comatose either.
“He’s had a rough time of it,” Ellen continued. “But when he’s ready he will come round. You just have to wait him out.”
James gave her a grateful smile. “Thank you Ellen, for both the chair and the encouragement.”
She smiled back. “If you need anything I’ll be at the desk, just ring the buzzer.”
After that it was only Robbie’s still form to keep him company and the occasional tread of footsteps, the beeping of the machines and quiet conversations in the passage to break the silence. Time went by and it was the end of visiting hours but no one came to tell him to leave.
He drifted off after a while, stretched out in the armchair and slipping into a fitful doze that was finally disrupted by the uncomfortable feeling of being watched. He jerked awake to find himself under observation from a pair of puzzled blue eyes.
“You’re awake,” he said, then mentally kicked himself for the obviousness of the comment. He sat up and leaned forward. “How do you feel?”
When he spoke Robbie’s speech was slow, almost hesitant. “I’ve got a splitting headache. What happened?”
“I’d hoped you’d be able to tell me that.”
Robbie took his gaze from James and looked around the room, realisation as to where he was dawning. Then he frowned, as if trying to get his thoughts together and form sensible words.
“There was a couple of young lads,” he said at last. “Ran right in front of the car. One had a knife.”
James sighed. “So you chased after them.”
“Yeah, seemed like a good idea at the time. How long have I been here? Wherever here is.”
James took hold of his hand, rubbing his thumb along Robbie’s knuckles. “About ten hours. And you’re in the Radcliffe. You took a good wallop to the head.
“Yeah, that I remember. What happened to the lad that was stabbed? I saw him go down but everything’s hazy after that.”
“Surprisingly enough he’s still alive and talking. From what we can work out, you were hit by a third person and when these idiots decided to shove you in the mausoleum the boy, his name’s Derryn Jones by the way, dragged himself to the church, which seems to have saved his life.”
Robbie’s eyebrows had gone up at the mention of his erstwhile prison. “Tell me all of it,” he said.
James obliged, outlining all that had happened since Robbie’s car had been found on St Cross Road and detailing the frantic search that had been carried out until James had found him trapped in the old tomb and how the stabbed boy had identified who the attackers were.
“Innocent is rounding them up as we speak,” he finished.
Robbie had listened to the recitation without comment and was still silent now that James had stopped speaking. He looked puzzled, as if there was something he found wanting in James’s tale.
“I’d better get the nurse, tell her you’re awake,” James said, reaching for the call button with his free hand, But Robbie stopped him, holding tight onto his fingers.
“No, wait a minute. There’s things you haven’t told me, isn’t there? Like how you found me and why I have these strange memories of you being there all the time, talking to me. They aren’t just dreams, are they?”
“I …,” James started to say but was interrupted when Ellen opened the door and poked her head into the room.
“Told you, didn’t I?” she said, smirking at the way James and Robbie quickly disentangled their hands. She came all the way in and moved to the bedside, a new drip bag in her hands. “I think the doctors are going to be pleased to see you fully conscious, Mr Lewis. Keep on like this and you’ll be able to go home soon.”
“I’d better go, let you get some rest,” James said, coming to his feet.
But Robbie grumbled, “Haven’t I been resting enough already?”
“Just for once in your life do as you’re told,” James said. Ellen’s back was turned to them while she replaced the exhausted drip with the new one so he bent forward to kiss Robbie softly, his heart finally at ease at the gentle touch of lips .
“Alright,” Robbie smiled his acceptance. “But me and you are going to have a serious discussion in the not too distant future.”
“That’s you and I,” James said
“Smart arse,” Robbie retaliated
James grinned. “We will talk, I promise. I’ve got a lot to tell you,” he said and kissed him again.
Ellen chose just that moment to turn around. The grin on her face told him what she’d seen and James ducked his head feeling his face flush red. Before she could make a comment he uttered a hasty goodbye and, embarrassment be damned, touched Robbie’s hand for a moment then headed for the door.
Robbie’s eyes were already closing as he glanced back.
James flew that night, letting the cool air and freedom of flight clear his head. Relief that it was all over and Robbie was found and safe matched his exhilaration in the unravelling of this newfound and amazing talent of his. He couldn’t wait to find out how it all worked and what he could do … to experiment. But his enthusiasm was tempered with the need to proceed carefully, knowing a mistake could be costly, even catastrophic if he didn’t learn how to control what his mind could do.
He flew until his muscles ached, then landed at Robbie’s flat, using his key to gain entry. The bed was still unmade from the other morning and resembled a war zone; clothes scatted, the sheets a tangled mess while the duvet nestled in a heap on the floor – all of which made James grin in reminiscence. He picked up the clothes and straightened the sheets, finding Robbie’s discarded t-shirt in the process, and retrieved the duvet. He stripped off quickly and tumbled into bed, holding the t-shirt close, breathing in Robbie’s comforting smell. Just before he closed his eyes he couldn’t resist a last thought.
There was a reply, faint and thready, but there.