CHAPTER 14

Stephen watched the police officers pass through the door to the basement and then close it firmly behind them. It had not been an easy decision to report Joanna to them. He loved her, he really did, and that’s why he eventually decided to do it.

Whatever was going on, she had problems. He was no expert, but when people started talking crazy, it was almost certain they needed professional help, and he only wanted what was best for her.

He looked at the door. Exhaled loudly.

Joanna would probably never forgive him. Would probably hate him if the truth be told, but it was a risk he was prepared to take if it meant she would get the help she needed to get better.

What was taking them so long? Surely they had found her by now. Unless she saw them coming and ran again.

Perhaps he should go down and help them. Perhaps he could talk to Joanna. Convince her that it was for her own good.

Yes, that’s what he’d do.

Stephen reached out, opened the door and descended the steps to find himself in a long corridor. He had never been down in the basement before and didn’t know how far it extended beneath the hospital.

A slight chill permeated the air and he folded his arms across his chest and started walking.

Pipes rattled overhead, making him jump and he chastised himself.

Where were they?

He hoped to god that Joanna didn’t resist arrest and get hurt. He couldn’t bear the thought of that happening, as it would be his fault for telling the police where she was.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have told them. Perhaps he should have spoken to her first. Given her a chance to explain.

What, and listen to her rant on about shadows again? No, he’d done the right thing.

She needed help. And this was the best way for her to get it.

He heard a noise up ahead, a scream that chilled the marrow in his bones.

Joanna!

Stephen broke into a run, the hard slap of his feet on the ground echoing behind him.

He reached an intersection where he stood, panting slightly as he looked both ways, ears pricked. When he heard another scream, he proceeded along the left-hand corridor.

The sound was closer now; seemed to originate from another corridor that branched off to the right.

Up ahead, he saw a flurry of movement: the police had Joanna cornered. The officers had their backs to him, but he saw Joanna punching and kicking furiously to keep them away.

The sight made him feel sick. She was acting like an animal.

“It’s no use,” one of the officers said. “You’re coming with us.”

“Go to hell,” Joanna screamed.

The policeman laughed. “Been there, done that.”

Stephen grimaced and shook his head. He had to put a stop to this and get her to stop fighting.

One of the police officers lunged for Joanna and grabbed her around the neck. Then, incredibly, he actually lifted her off the floor, leaving her feet flailing in midair.

Stephen’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Joanna went red in the face, her fingers clawing at the man’s hand.

“Don’t kill her,” the other officer said. “She’ll be more use as a vessel and we don’t want any questions if someone discovers the body.”

The officer loosened his grip, and lowered Joanna to the ground. She stood bent over, gagging and rubbing her neck.

Dumbfounded and shocked by what he’d just witnessed, Stephen stepped back into a recess in the wall.

Kill her! Were they serious? Jesus H fuckin’ Christ, that would mean Joanna was telling the truth. There was something going on, and he had just delivered her right into the hands of the people she was trying to avoid. Never mind the fact the scrawny officer had just lifted Joanna into the air without breaking sweat, an act that should have been physically impossible.

He put his hands to his face and rubbed, feeling the harsh scratch of bristles across his palms.

What the fuck was going on?

Who were those people?

What were those people?

And how was he going to get Joanna away from them?

Judging by the man’s strength, rushing out and attacking them would be both useless and foolhardy, especially if both officers were as strong. Besides which, Stephen wasn’t a fighter, and had spent most of his life learning how to avoid trouble.

He considered running back the way he’d come to get help, but it might be too late by then. And of course, if he made it, he would probably find himself in the same predicament as Joanna, in that it would be hard to convince someone that something untoward was occurring, and that the custodians of the law, might not be what they seemed.

Besides, he couldn’t abandon her. She loved him, and he loved her. At the end of the day, that mattered. No, it was up to him to find a way to free her.

But how?

Body trembling, he leaned forwards and peered from his hidey-hole. The officer that had lifted Joanna off the ground grabbed her arms and pulled her upright. Joanna squealed. The sound made Stephen wince and he almost bit his tongue.

“Come on, let’s go,” the officer said.

Stephen ducked back out of sight, felt his heart pummelling his ribs, each beat an accusation.

He heard them approach; knew they might spot him any second. He pushed himself back against the wall, felt something sharp dig into his spine.

Puzzled, he turned and stared at the rectangular fire alarm box on the wall, and without another thought, he did what it said on the front and broke the glass to press the button.

An ear-splitting alarm rang out and he ducked back as Joanna and the two police officers hurried past.

Obviously concerned by the alarm, they moved too fast to take any notice of the recess where he stood. When they had passed, he stepped out and followed them.

Once he reached the corridor up above, he saw the place was in pandemonium. Patients and staff hurried towards the emergency exits, any attempt at control going unheeded as people panicked. A nurse ushered a man with a drip in his arm through the crowd, her pleas for calm ignored.

Stephen thought the alarm almost sounded as though it originated inside his skull and his teeth rattled. The noise made it hard to think straight.

Where was Jo? He stood on tiptoes to see above the crowd and was pushed back by two old women in dressing gowns whom the alarm rejuvenated with age-old strength.

“Calm down,” Stephen said. “It’s just a drill.”

One of the old women looked up at him through rheumy eyes and then stamped on his foot. “Get out of my way,” she shrilled.

“I can smell smoke,” someone shouted.

Stephen grimaced. Of course no one could smell smoke, but the alarm seemed to imbue people with an almost animalistic will to survive, where they only thought about their own wellbeing and sod everyone else.

Clawing his way through the crowd, Stephen spotted the police officers up ahead. They were making their way deeper into the hospital, easily pushing people aside as they went.

Stephen ran after them, squeezing and barging through the throng. Along the corridor, he spotted a hospital bed against the wall and he grabbed it, disengaged the brake and pushed it forward. When he got close enough, he screamed, causing the officers to stop and turn. Without breaking stride, Stephen slammed the bed like a battering ram into the officer holding Joanna.

Taken by surprise, the officer released Joanna and staggered back.

“This way,” Stephen shouted. He reached out, took a terrified looking Joanna by the hand and pulled her towards him.

Then he led her through the crowd, nudging people aside with a series of apologies that received venomous responses.

A quick glance over his shoulder revealed the police in pursuit. Unlike Stephen, they barged people aside without a care. He saw them push an old man face first into the wall, breaking his nose on impact. His head rebounded, and blood gushed from his nostrils before he crumpled to the ground.

With their aggressive drive, he knew it wouldn’t take long before they caught up.

He had to slow them down.

The alarm continued to ring, heightening the sense of panic.

Forced against the wall by the crowd, Stephen grabbed a fire extinguisher, yanked out the pin, lifted the nozzle and sprayed a cloud of white powder at the people behind which drove them back towards the pursuing officers, further hampering their progress.

In the ensuing mayhem, he dragged Joanna outside.

“Now can you tell me what’s going on?” he said as he pulled her towards the staff car park.

Joanna didn’t answer, and he didn’t question her further as they needed to get away.

When he reached the car, he pulled his keys out of his pocket.

“You grassed me up. I trusted you,” Joann said, slapping him hard on the cheek.

Stephen winced and rubbed at his face. “I’m sorry, but you sounded crazy. Look, let’s just get away from here first.”

Joanna glared at him and then jumped into the car.

Stephen slid into the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove away from the hospital.

He glanced in his rear-view mirror and gasped when he saw the police officers running after him. A check of the speedometer revealed that although he was going at fifty miles an hour, they kept pace.

“Jesus. What the fuck are those people?”

Joanna twisted in her seat to look back, then she turned to the front, leaned across and pushed Stephen’s leg down to press the accelerator to the floor.

“Faster,” she said.

“Whoa, take it easy.” He flew past a speed camera and saw the flash in his mirror. There’s three points and a fine, he thought.

As the car reached eighty miles per hour, the police officers dropped away.

“Okay, you can let go of my leg now, we’ve lost them,” Stephen said.

Joanna released her pressure, sat up and turned to look back.

“But for how long?”

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