Alex played with his toys while the two women worked around him, both occasionally reaching down to ruffle his hair. He liked it behind the bar, there were interesting things to look at and when the till opened a little bell rang out. His mother approached him from the end of the bar and reached down to scoop him up. He soared high and got a good look at the strange men and women gathered in his home. They drank from large glasses, and a few winked at him as he waved a pudgy hand.
“I need to feed the creature,” Misha said shifting his weight onto her hip. “Are you all right for a few minutes?”
“I can manage,” Mo said. Her earrings jangled as she talked, big shiny hoops that Alex reached for, but she caught his finger and wiggled it. “It won’t get busy for a few more hours.”
“I hope it’s not like last night again.”
“Never say that, love. Better a busy pub than an empty one. There’s nothing more depressing than a quiet pub.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Misha shifted the lump in her arms. “I won’t be long.”
The bell over the door tinkled and the wind gusted into the pub along with a spattering of rain. Heads turned at the newcomer and a few grumbled, shaking their heads at the state of the young woman standing in the doorway.
“Unbelievable,” Misha said watching Tay as she dripped on her carpet. She was drenched, her yellow t-shirt ripped up the side and her unlaced shoes squelching as she took a step into the pub. Tay stared intently at everyone in turn and then turned her attention to the walls and the ceiling. There was something off about the girl, Misha decided, more so than usual. A regular got up to leave and Tay recoiled from them as they passed her on their way to the door.
“Who is it?” Mo asked. “She looks like she’s been through the wringer all right.”
“She’s no one,” Misha said and handed Alex to Mo. “Can you take him for a second, I need to deal with this.”
“Sure, but be careful. She looks a bit deranged.”
Tay looked over as Misha came down the side of the bar, searching her memory for a name. People stared up at her as she passed them, water dripping from her fingers and leaving a trail on the floor. “Misha?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for Wyn, is she about?” Tay said in a faraway voice. She stared wide-eyed at Misha’s shoulders, flicking from one to the other.
“She’s been trying to find you,” Misha said frowning at Tay’s strange behaviour.
“Really, why?” Tay asked innocently. She looked down at her shirt, noticing the rip and pulled at it. “I liked this shirt.”
“Because she needs to ask you something.” Misha pushed Tay’s arms down as she tried to take her shirt off. “Leave that on.”
“But it’s broken,” Tay said letting go. “Like me.”
“Come through here.” Misha took Tay by the hand and led her into the games room, closing the door behind them and standing with her back to it. “I didn’t think you’d come back here, not after you vanished and abandoned your friends.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Tay said trailing her fingers over the pool table. “What happened to the sunbed?”
“Once your friend used up all the spares there wasn’t much point in leaving it on display. Wyn and I moved it upstairs for safekeeping.” She remembered the struggle they’d had moving the thing, almost crushing Wyn in the process. “We couldn’t have it down here for everyone to see.”
Tay stared at the ceiling. “You think I could have a spin in it?”
“No. Is that why you’re here?”
“I’m not sure.” Tay scratched her stomach. Her insides felt fluid like they were shifting around, her heart travelling down to her knees while her brain was where her lungs used to be. “I feel numb. I was just walking, and I thought I’d come here and say hello. I think I need some advice but I’m not sure about what.”
“Are you high? Is that what you’ve been doing while your friends are in prison?”
“This was accidental.” Tay’s gaze drifted down Misha’s arm and lingered on her hands, a smile crossing her face.
“What are you looking at?” Misha asked, hiding her arm behind her back and breaking the spell.
“Nothing,” Tay said, startled by the question. “I should go.”
“Oh no, you’re not going anywhere.” Misha put her hand on the door and pointed at a lone stool in the corner. “Sit down over there. Wyn will want to see you when she gets back.”
“How long will that be?” Tay rubbed at her arms suddenly cold. She moved to the radiator under the window and put her hands on it, but it was colder than she was.
“Not long. I can’t imagine you have anything pressing to do.”
“Can I wait upstairs? Maybe in the machine?”
“No, that’s our home.” Misha pointed again at the stool in the corner. “You can sit there. I’ll shut the door and you can wait on your own. If you’re cold, I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”
“I’m sorry for everything that happened. I wanted to come back but...”
“It’s not me you have to apologise to.”
“What happened to...” Tay stared at the empty spot where the machine had been. “The bird lady?”
“Sona? She recovered. It took two weeks, but she walked out of here.”
“Was Jens with her?”
“You remember his name then? We tried to convince him to stay with us, but he said he had to get his sister out of prison. He searched for you, but in the end, he gave up. He and Sona are out there engaged in god knows what.”
“I let him down that night.” Tay sat on the floor with her back to the radiator and hugged her knees.
“I won’t argue with that.” Misha didn’t want to feel sorry for Tay, but she looked so pitiful that a part of her heart went out to her. “Tay, you disappointed a lot of people that night. Wyn put a lot of faith in you, and you just walked all over her.”
“Where did you go, Tay?”
“I went to the temple. I wanted answers.”
“You abandoned your friends. Wyn’s been working hard to get Gren out of prison with no help from you. They were going to be executed, but she saved them. She trusted you.”
“Why are you really here? If it’s money you’re after you may as well leave now, we barely have enough to keep going.”
“I need her help,” Tay said.
“Of course, you do. People like you always need someone’s help.”
“Misha!” Mo called out from the bar.
“Stay here,” Misha said before opening the games room door.
“There she is,” Mo said cheerfully, pointing at Misha. Two women were standing by the bar, one of them with a snake tattoo on her cheek. “They’re looking for a friend of yours, love.”
The two women approached, and Misha pulled the door closed behind her. She folded her arms across her chest and tried not to stare at their tattoos. “What can I do for you?”
“We’re looking for a friend of ours, Tay. Have you seen her?” the older of the pair asked with an easy smile at odds with the intense look in her eyes. “We just want to take her home.”
“I haven’t seen her but if I do, I’ll tell her you’re looking for her,” Misha said. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got a barrel to change.”
“The Great Mother wants to talk to her, she has questions.”
“Don’t we all,” Misha said.
“We’re not here to harm her, quite the opposite,” the younger of the women said with a lightness that seemed to originate in her feet. “It’s time for her to realise her destiny.”
“I think you two should leave. I’ve had enough of Tay bringing trouble here. Get out or I’ll call the militia.”
The door opened behind her, and Tay came out to stand behind her.
“Tay,” the younger woman said peering around Misha. “Why are you hiding from us? We only want to take you home.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” Tay said stepping out from behind Misha. “I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble for what happened or not. I mean, it wasn’t my fault, I wasn’t there when they, you know.”
“When what happened?” Misha asked taking hold of Tay’s arm. Her skin was cold and clammy, and Misha got a whiff of the chemical smell seeping from her pores. “You’re ill, Tay. You need a doctor.”
“We can talk about everything back at the temple, Tay. We need to hurry though, the Great Mother is waiting,” the older woman said.
“Oh no, Tay’s not going anywhere.” Misha tightened her grip unwilling to let her out of her sight. “She’s staying here, with us.”
“I have to, Misha. They’re my family,” Tay said allowing the younger woman to take her hand.
“Wyn wants to talk to you. You owe her that at least.”
“Tell her I’m sorry for everything that happened,” Tay said as her arms were slowly pulled apart. “I didn’t know what I was doing but I think I do now. Tell her I can see them. My eyes are finally open.”
“Tell her yourself, Tay.” Misha let go of her hand in frustration. “You’re nothing but trouble.”
The younger woman led Tay out the door, the older pausing at the door and giving Misha and the room one last look. The message was clear, but it didn’t matter, no one had made a move to stop them. The bell tinkled and they were gone.
Mo came around the bar, with Alex in her arms. “Is everything okay, love? I could get some of the lads from the market if there’s trouble.”
“No, no. I’m not getting involved in this anymore.” Misha turned Mo around. “Good riddance.”
“Misha?” Wyn called out as she jogged up the stairs. “I think we’ve done it.”
“Wyn,” Misha called out from the kitchen table. “I’m in here feeding Alex,”
“Hi,” Wyn smiled as she saw them at the table. Alex was in his highchair eating a sandwich. He waved a piece of bread at Wyn, dropping a slice of cheese on his plate.
“Please tell me it’s good news,” Misha said turning in her seat.
“I think I’ve found the temple. It’s still got to be confirmed that the lab is there but I’m hopeful.”
“Are they going to be released?” Misha asked tearfully.
“I’m waiting for the call.” Wyn shrugged out of her coat and hooked it over the back of a chair. Her shoulder rig keeping her gun tucked securely at her side.
Misha stood up and threw her arms around Wyn.
“It will be okay,” Wyn said resting a hand on Misha’s back. “We just have to wait.”
“Thank you, Wyn. Without you...”
“It’s almost over.”
Misha kissed Wyn on the cheek and then broke the embrace. “I’ll make some tea.”
“Thanks.” Wyn sat down with a sigh and watched Alex as he ate his lunch. He stared back at Wyn as he took a bite, bits falling to the little table attached to his chair.
“I’ll go down and help Mo in a bit, just need to decompress for a moment,” Wyn said.
“I was about to after Alex finished, but you can stay up here with him if you’d like?”
“That’ll be nice. How was your day so far?”
Misha took a mug down from the cupboard and took her time fishing a tea bag out of the jar.
“Tay came looking for you,” Misha said with her back to Wyn.
“Is she still here?” Wyn said standing up quickly. “I came in the back way.”
“She’s gone. Some people from her temple came and took her away.”
“How long ago?”
“Not long, a quarter of an hour maybe. But we don’t have to worry about her anymore. Wyn, you found the temple without her help. You don’t need her. Just sit down and relax.”
“Did she go with them willingly?”
“I think so. She was going to speak with someone called the Great Mother.” Misha rubbed at her eyes and then turned to fill the kettle up. “When will we know about Tom and Jena?”
“Soon, I hope. Agent Douglass has a team getting ready to raid the temple. Did she seem scared? Did she say why she came looking for me?”
“She seemed out of it, a bit rattled, I guess. But she’s gone. Just sit down and rest.”
“I don’t want her getting caught up in this. I don’t know what Lancaster will do when they get there. If they go in heavy—”
“That’s her problem," Misha snapped. “You remember what Mr Wilkin said about her? She’s trouble. Why do you care about her?”
“I don’t know.” Wyn paced to the open door and back. “Maybe because I’ve seen a thousand kids like her, they just bounce around from one crisis to the next. She’s not bad, she’s just stuck in the middle.”
“She’s not your daughter, Wyn. It’s not your responsibility what happens to her.”
“I know she isn’t, I never said she was. I don’t know why but I care, I just do,” Wyn said unsure where Misha’s anger was coming from. “I’m going to go and take a look.”
“Please don’t jeopardise the release. We’re so close, don’t go ruining it.”
Wyn gathered her jacket up but stood in the door, something holding her back.
“She went willingly with them,” Misha said. “You won’t get her to leave with you.”
“It’s not just that. It’s this leader they keep talking about, I’d never heard about her before today.”
“What about her?”
“I think she’s from Central. I wish I could speak to Mr Wilkin.”
“Wyn,” Misha said, “when we get them back, we can forget about all of this. It will be okay. Just sit here with Alex.”
“I’m going to take a drive. I can’t relax until I know this is over. All I’m going to do is check out the location from a distance. No one will see me, I promise.”
“Please, Wyn, be careful. I can’t lose you as well.”
“I’ll be back in an hour.”