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Finally, the medicine man laughed and lowered the gun.
‘Well if you’re willing to be put down like a sick dog I guess you’re smitten, alright.’
Davey bent double and hurled all over the corridor outside the lift.
‘Don’t worry,’ the medicine man said, kindness in his voice. ‘You wouldn’t believe some of the messes I’ve cleaned off this floor. This is nothing.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Davey said.
‘Come in. She’s in here.’
The medicine man took off his mask and Davey was amazed to see that this mysterious assassin was a female!
The figure laughed when she saw the dismay on his face.
‘You thought I was a man, right? Cos of the stories?’ she laughed.
Davey nodded, still too taken aback to speak.
‘Well, it’s all Chinese whispers. I’m not the Medicine Man. My name’s Monique and I make sure people take their medicine. I’m Medicine Mon. But over the years the story’s been bastardised. I let people go on thinking I’m a dude. That way they ain’t looking for me.’
‘But anyway. She’s asleep in there. You go see her, you little hero. You got some balls on you, I can tell ya.’
Monique disappeared into another room.
Davey went in and saw Tia lying on a makeshift bed.
She looked paler than the last time he’d seen her, in the odd place where she wasn’t caked in dried blood.
She was out cold, her chest heaving.
Davey’s alarm must have been palpable, as Monique came in from the next room.
‘She ok?’ he said, panic in his expression and tone.
She smiled sadly. ‘She could be better, but she’ll live. Keeps having nightmares though, poor thing.’
Davey moved in, carefully held her hand.
He kissed it softly, then leaned in and kissed her forehead with similar tenderness.
He whispered softly to her.
Her eyelids seemed to flicker a little at the sound of his voice, but she didn’t stir.
‘She ain’t going nowhere, lover boy,’ Monique smiled. ‘Say, we’d best get your friend up here too, ey?’
He breathed in deeply. ‘I’m so glad you’re ok,’ he said.
‘She was safer with the giant crab,’ Monique said, looking down on the sleeping child.
‘Those assholes that took her. I’ve been watching them for years. They are bad, bad men. It’s took me a long time to get rid of them, but I got there in the end.’
‘Well there won’t be any more trouble from them,’ Davey laughed.
Monique laughed too. ‘Na. There was nothing left of them to cause trouble.’
‘Are we ok here?’ Davey said.
Monique nodded slowly. ‘Yeah. Long as your friend isn’t making a scene when she steps outta this elevator.’
The lift scraped its way up the shaft. After a shrill beep, the doors slowly slid open.
Luna was standing there, mouth agape.
‘It’s ok,’ Davey said. ‘She’s here and she’s fine.’
‘Who the fuck is she?’ Luna’s trembling finger pointed to Monique.
‘That’s a bit of a long story,’ Monique smiled. ‘But short version is… I’m the medicine man.’
Monique and Davey explained the score to Luna and she took it all in, nodding in all the right places, even offering the odd, ‘Uh-uh,’ to indicate she was listening.
It seemed a lot for her to take in.
When you had an image of something in your head it was hard to get used to it being totally different, like the Medicine Man being a woman for instance.
Still, she smiled when it was finished and thanked Monique for saving Tia.
‘Say, you really went through those guys, like,’ she smiled. ‘You’re a fucking badass.’
‘You’re not so bad yourself, sweetheart,’ Monique smiled.
‘My eldest was about your age,’ Monique said, a sad smile on her face. ‘I’m still searching for her.’
‘And you leave a spoon by the road sign of every town you’ve searched, right?’ Luna said, eyes lit up with excitement.
Monique nodded. ‘That’s right.’
‘I just can’t believe you’re a chick, that’s fucking awesome, like,’ Luna gushed.
‘I try,’ Monique said, blushing a little.
A shrill cry from the next room made them all turn and run.
Tia was sitting up in bed, puking up blood-flecked bile.
‘What’s going on?’ she screamed, clutching her hands to her temples as though trying to keep her brain from leaking out of the sides of her skull.
‘Relax,’ Davey said, throwing an arm around her. ‘It’s ok. You’re safe.’
She looked up at him with wide eyes and a bemused expression.
For a full minute she had no idea who he was.
Same for Luna.
Although she did seem to remember Monique.
‘It’s me, honey,’ Luna said, stroking Tia’s right arm.
Tia looked at her, all bug-eyed. She looked like she’d lost her mind upon waking.
‘Hey, sweetheart, it’s ok,’ Monique said, putting an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
Davey reluctantly let her in.
Tia seemed to relax upon seeing Monique’s face.
‘Are you my mom?’ she asked, hope writ large on her face.
It was obvious by the delay in Monique’s reply that she was deciding whether or not to tell the truth.
And who could blame her?
After losing her family in such a way it would be easy to cling to denial like a life raft.
‘No, sweetheart. I’m not,’ Monique said, fixing her with a kind smile. ‘But this is Davey and this is Luna. They’re your friends. You were out with them when the crabs came.’
At the mention of the crabs, Tia cried out.
For the first time, Davey noticed the marks on her arms and legs.
The missing two fingers on her right hand, that ended just after the first knuckle in a blood-choked mess.
‘They’re gone,’ Davey said, trying to dodge her flailing legs which threatened to send him into sleep.
‘And the men are gone too,’ Luna said.
Tia turned to her, her bottom lip sticking out like a sulking toddler.
She looked as though she’d regressed half a decade while out cold.
‘The bad m—’ Luna began, but trailed off as a furious glance from Monique silenced her.
‘All that matters is that you’re here with us and you’re safe,’ Monique said, carefully taking one of Tia’s hands from her head and gently rubbing it.
Monique cuddled her in and began to gently stroke her hair, whispering to her.
Tia was asleep within minutes.
‘I bet you were a hell of a mom, like,’ Luna said.
‘Thank you, that means a lot to me,’ Monique sniffed and Davey was certain he saw her thumb a tear away from her eye.
When Tia awoke again she seemed to recall what had happened without getting upset.
She recognised Davey and welcomed his embrace.
The heat of her body against his almost made his heart stop, but in a good way.
It felt as though someone had set fireworks off in his gut.
‘Move aside, Casanova,’ Luna said, roughly shoving him away so she could hug Tia too.
‘I’m so pleased you’re ok,’ she said, hugging her friend tight enough to tear the breath from her.
‘Me too. But I don’t think I would have been if it wasn’t for Monique.’
Monique seemed embarrassed by the attention and did her best to play down her part in all of it.
She brought in soft drinks for everyone and gave them generous servings of snacks she knew her kids would have enjoyed.
‘I’ve got all this in so I can throw a party when I finally find her,’ she smiled sadly.
‘Why don’t you come and live with us?’ Tia smiled.
‘In the Freelands?’ Monique smiled at the thought. ‘I couldn’t. It looks like so much fun that I would forget my purpose in life.’
‘That’s kinda the point,’ Luna said. ‘You just forget your problems, take it easy, like. Enjoy what little time you have left.’
Her and Tia in unison said, ‘Life sucks and then you die so suck some steam in by the fire.’
They both laughed at the coincidence, then Tia, quick as a flash, said, ‘Jinx,’ and punched Luna hard on the arm.
‘I forgot all about that,’ Davey said sadly.
And it brought yet more memories of things before flooding back.
All the friends he’d played with.
All just ashes to be scattered by the relentless winds.
Those days never to return.
‘You ok?’ Tia said, her eyes glinting as they looked up into Davey’s.
Once again he felt pulled in, as though being mesmerised.
‘I’m just remembering them,’ he said.
Tia pulled him in tight and again he felt the fireworks.
Her embrace soothed the pain in his soul, if only temporarily.
Her heartbeat seemed to bring him back to the now.
Grudgingly, he let go of the image of his family again.
‘I just miss them so much,’ he sobbed, unable to help himself.
‘I know the feeling, sweetie,’ Monique said, joining the pile-on of hugs. ‘But there ain’t no one in this fucked up world now who ain’t damaged goods. We all lost somebody. You just gotta let the memory of them keep pushing you on.’
Davey nodded, regained his composure.
‘So what do you say, Mon, are you coming back to the Freelands?’ Tia said.
Monique shook her head.
‘No, but I’ll drive you guys back whenever you’re ready.’
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