Diego was on the floor with a hand around his neck before he was ready to admit he’d made a mistake. His vision blurred as the fingers tightened, squeezing the breath from his body. Turned out he should have waited for that back up after all.
His and Eudora’s shift had already ended when the call had come in a little after midnight. They had argued in the car that day. Not an uncommon occurrence following the break-up, but it always put Diego in a foul mood. He had just dropped her off at her apartment when the radio crackled. A bar fight in Greenwich Village, with unconfirmed reports that shots had been fired. He had been less than two minutes from the scene. Decision made, he turned the keys in the ignition and sped off into the night.
He’d followed the first person he’d seen fleeing the bar, jumping out of the car and pounding after him along the street. A tall, broad shouldered man with his hood up and his head down. Diego had chased him into a darkened alley a few hundred yards away. The alley ended abruptly in a dead end, blocked off by several metal trashcans and a tall brick wall. There was no sign of his target.
Diego had scaled the wall and landed neatly on top of a dumpster at the other side when a hand fastened around his ankle. He was pulled to the ground with a sickening crunch from his leg, his head hitting the corner of the dumpster as he fell. The impact had blinded him for a second, pain shooting through every inch of his body.
At least he’d got in a few good punches, Diego thought grimly, his face pressed into concrete. The hand around his neck loosened, and he gasped for breath, lungs burning. His stomach turned as he felt the cold barrel of a gun being pressed into the back of his head. He could hear the sound of sirens blaring in the distance, too far away to help him.
At that moment an almighty clattering announced someone else’s arrival in the alley. His assailant’s grip loosened and Diego lifted his head in time to see a bizarre, cat-like figure tumble from the wall behind them onto the dumpster at their side. As the figure fell, he scrambled for purchase, one hand landing on the assailant’s broad head and cracking it sideways into the wall.
Diego’s would-be killer slumped to the ground, knocked unconscious by the fall.
Diego squinted up at the man now standing before him, his vision spinning. The man’s cat like appearance was the result of a giant, black coat that seemed to consist solely of ostrich feathers. His thin legs appeared to be bare beneath it, and looked scrawny beneath its bulk. Dark hair fell into his eyes as he squinted at Diego. In the moonlight, his face was exceptionally pale and worryingly out of focus.
“Whoops,” the man murmured, his eyes very wide as he took in the sight before him. His eyes skittered from Diego, to the gun on the ground, to the man he had just unwittingly knocked out cold.
“What are you doing down there, buddy?” the stranger asked him. His breath smelled strongly of alcohol, but his tone was soft. He leaned in to grab Diego’s arm, pulling him to his feet with surprising strength. “We gotta go.”
The man pulled Diego’s arm around his shoulders and began to haul him away, down the alley. The sounds of sirens had reached a crescendo, and the blue lights of cars were flashing beyond the wall behind them.
Diego felt distinctly woozy; his nose was dripping blood where his attacker had head-butted him. He wanted to turn around, to return to the familiar commotion of sirens and lights, but his legs were refusing to cooperate. The man half carrying him from the scene was buckling under his weight, his slight build obvious even beneath the bulk of his feathered coat. Despite their size difference, he continued to drag Diego along with surprising determination.
“You can’t laze around on the ground now, you know,” his saviour told him, hurrying him down a narrow passage between two tall buildings. “The cops are coming.”
“I am a cop,” Diego said, his head still swimming. It was only after the words had left his mouth that he realised they weren’t his wisest choice.
The man stopped. His head snapped around. As he stared at Diego, his face swayed suddenly into focus. His wide eyes were ringed with thick black eyeliner, which stood out starkly against his pale skin. His eye lashes were unnaturally long, and seemed to be adorned with miniature black feathers to match his coat. His mouth had fallen partly open in surprise.
“Christ on a cracker,” he hissed, wriggling out from beneath Diego’s arm. He started to back away but dived forwards again as Diego wobbled on his feet. “Are you really?”
"Think so,” Diego said woozily. He wasn’t too sure about anything any more. The man’s hands had settled reluctantly on his waist, holding him upright.
“Well, shit,” the man said, watching him with conflicted concern. “Now what am I gonna do with you?”
He turned his head and began muttering to himself, eyes fixed on a point just beyond Diego’s left shoulder.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he shook his head vigorously, and the feathers of his coat collar quivered at the movement. "I can’t go carrying a cop around with me.”
Even in his half-conscious state, Diego was beginning to seriously doubt the man’s sanity. He made an effort to release himself from the stranger’s grasp, falling back to lean against the wall behind him instead. He glanced up at the sky and took a great gulp of cold night air. The stars were swimming in the sky above him, then slipping… and falling.
No. Wait. He was falling.
He was vaguely aware of his head hitting the floor. A pair of wide, pale eyes blinking above him. A hand tugging his phone from his pocket. Then black.
Diego awoke to the sound of a rhythmic beeping. His body ached fiercely and his throat felt scratchy and sore. Opening his eyes, he blinked in the bright white light. He was in a hospital room bed, covered in scratchy white sheets and a waffled blanket that looked like something he might find in his grandmother’s sitting room. He plucked at it in disgust and it snagged on an IV taped to his wrist. Averting his eyes, he tugged the needle from his arm with a shudder and forced himself up into a seated position.
“I’d stay lying down, if I were you,” came a voice from the corner of the room.
Eudora was sat on a small plastic chair, a cup of takeaway coffee in her hands. She surveyed him coldly, eyes narrowed.
“Morning, Dora,” he winked at her as he settled back to lean against the bed frame. His head throbbed as he looked around, eyes still bleary in the artificial light. As he surveyed the room his gaze fell on a vast arrangement of flowers on the cabinet by the bed. He frowned.
“You’re an idiot,” Eudora said. She had stood up, clutching her coffee cup to her chest. There were dark circles under her eyes. “You shouldn’t have been there at all. Never mind alone. You could have died."
Diego was still distracted by the flowers. “Is this some kind of a reconciliation thing?" he asked warily, gesturing at them. “Cause you know I think you’re crazy cute, but I don’t think getting back together is the best idea.”
Eudora’s nostrils flared. The hand holding her coffee cup twitched as if, for a second, she had considered throwing it in Diego’s face.
“And now you think I want to date you again,” she said, flinging her arms in the air in exasperation. Coffee sloshed over the sides of her cup, splashing the bed sheets. She headed towards the door. “I’ll let the nurses know you’re still concussed.”
Diego watched her go, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile. “You’re the one who bought me roses,” he shouted after her.
Eudora’s voice reached him easily, despite the fact she must now be half way down the corridor. “Not from me.”
Diego raised an eyebrow, turning back to view the extravagant array of flowers. The mass of pink and red blooms was interspersed with strange leafy stems that reminded him strongly of cabbages. His eyes followed a string rising from the centre of the bunch and ending in a small pink balloon. It had Get Well Soon written on it in garish yellow letters.
Just as he was about to sink back down into the pillows, he noticed a small card peeking out from the midst of the arrangement. He reached out a hand and plucked it out, warily. A short message had been scrawled on the back.
Glad you didn’t get shot
– Klaus x
p.s. borrowed twenty bucks
Diego’s wallet was lying open next to the flowers. Diego let his head drop back against the bed frame, then winced as pain shot through his skull.
He had a distinctly blurred memory of a lithe man in a giant, feathered coat leaning over him on the ground. He frowned, remembering the man dragging him away from the police cars. Then he sat bolt upright when he remembered the same man’s boot colliding with his attacker’s head.
“Eudora,” he bellowed, wincing at the volume of his own voice. His lip had cracked at some point during the fight and as he shouted it reopened, sending a drop of blood trickling down his chin. He wiped it away impatiently on the back of his hand.
She appeared less than a minute later, entering the room with a harried looking nurse in tow.
"You lost name-screaming privileges when we broke up Diego,” she informed him sharply.
The nurse made a noise of stifled amusement and Diego glared at him. He dropped his head apologetically and scribbled something on his clipboard before setting about trying to reinsert the IV. Diego shook him off.
“You seen a crazy looking guy in a coat made of feathers?” he asked Eudora,
She raised an eyebrow and turned to the nurse conspiratorially. “See. Definitely still concussed.”
“Oh, no, he was here. Left just before you arrived,” the nurse said, addressing Eudora rather than Diego. “He was the one that called the ambulance. Bit odd… jumpy looking. He was bleeding but wouldn’t let us anywhere near him.”
“Did he leave a number? A surname?” Diego asked, snapping his figures in front of the man’s face in an attempt to tear his attention away from Eudora. “Any way of getting in touch with him?”
The nurse grabbed Diego’s hand from in front of his face and forcibly reinserted the IV, before returning it to rest on the covers with a gentle pat. “That’s better,” he said. “No, just the flowers. He couldn’t decide between them and the balloon, so he got both.” He glanced at the open wallet on the bedside table. “I think he used your money though.”
Diego raised a hand to scrub through his hair, frowning at the realisation that it was still matted with blood. He closed his eyes and sank back down into the pillows with a groan. So the crazy guy in the feathered coat had saved him from getting shot, half carried him away from the crime-scene, and then called him an ambulance. He had presumably then ridden alongside him in the back of it, hung around to buy flowers, and come within just a few minutes of meeting an array of disgruntled police officers.
This struck Diego as unusually risky behaviour for someone who, he was now convinced, had been high as a kite. Presumably the man had also been involved in the armed bar fight that took place just a few minutes before they’d met. He rolled on to his side and glared at the flowers. Even accounting for the twenty bucks Klaus has taken, it seemed Diego was significantly in his debt. It wasn’t a feeling he appreciated.
“You’ll be okay to leave later,” the nurse told him, pulling him from his thoughts. “Don’t scratch at your stitches, and keep that cast on your ankle. We had to realign your nose, so keep that dressing on too. You’ll need to take antibiotics for the next couple of weeks. Don’t leave without them and don’t forget to take them. Drink lots of fluids- not alcohol- and no strenuous sports for at least three weeks.”
The man stood up, ignoring Diego’s deep scowl of irritation. His eyes were back on Eudora, who had been watching the whole exchange smugly, arms crossed. She looked more relaxed now than when Diego had first woken up, although still slightly messy. Her hair was sticking out on one side as if she fallen asleep against the wall.
The nurse smiled at her hopefully, straightening his scrubs. “Can I get you another cup of coffee?”
Diego was barely aware of them disappearing off together. Staring up at the ceiling, he stubbornly ignored the pounding in his head. He was still struggling to think straight, but one thing had become imminently clear. He turned the card over again in his hand, examining the messy writing.
He needed to find Klaus.