Sisters 50

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CHAPTER 50
She looked like a rabbit in headlights, checking around for someone to support her.

“Inspector Powell, aye?”

Sod it. I initiated a hug; get the personal space closed down before she runs, Lainey.

“Annie now, isn’t it? Sar told me the story, no way I could miss out on this one, so we brought the family, aye? You know Siân, my missus?”

“Sort of, never really met. Looking good, Elaine”

“Looking fat, you mean. Her cooking, it is, too much loving whatsits. Now, you have a few here you don’t know”

“I know Jim. Jim, he’s out in Steph’s conservatory. Wipe your… too late.”

Sar’s boy was off like a rocket, and that thought made me smile. So definitely hers, now. Adam, Annie watched him go, and there was just a slight twitch to her expression before she sighed.

“Ah, boys. Who’d have ‘em?”

I called over the rest of our party.

“This is my uncle Arwel, and his wife Alice, his boy Hywel and Suzy, Alison and Steve, their little sods are the ones who ran off after Jim. It’s cold, girl…”

“Oh, sorry! Cuppa?”

“Wrth gwrs.”

Sarah and Tony begged somewhere to go and change, for they had of course come by bike, while the rest of us were led to the kitchen, overflowing with cheap mugs and plates. ANNIE busied HERself with the necessaries as I watched her, and each moment made it easier. I could still see Adam, for she didn’t look that convincing, which was the thought I pulled myself up on. Sam had looked more than a little silly the first time I saw him in a dress, and I was trying to filter what I saw of Annie through that memory. I sipped the tea, looking at the empty beer bottles already there, and sighed. Best to keep a work head on for this one.

“Who’s who, girl?”

Her head jerked at that. Still sensitive, still vulnerable. She waved a hand vaguely towards the garden. “Neighbours, friends, colleagues. You know Steph’n’Geoff?”

I winced, but it made sense. She carried on after a chuckle at my expression. “Even got my shrink here, and, er, my fiancé of course. I’ll introduce you, but he’s a banjo player, so count your fingers.

Siân snorted up half her tea. “I thought it was their fingers you had to count, aye? And toes. Real purty mah-outh and all that?”

Annie laughed out loud at that one. “Eric’s going to love you two! Now, I’ll introduce you to a few, and then it’s party duties for me, aye?”

Eric turned out to be exactly what I had expected following Steph’s revelation of extramarital lusting, a skinny and undertall man. He settled back against the sink, clutching his pint as if he was about to meet the Inquisition, eyes flicking from me to my wife and back again.

“Let me guess: you want to make sure she’s all right? Vet me and so on?”

“Siân, cariad? Want to make sure Arwel hasn’t eaten anyone? Ta!”

She gave a sharp nod, and swept out after our family, and I turned back to Eric, softening my voice.

“No, butt. Just wondering… Look, I was at one of her nasties, aye? Still gets to me every now and again, when I let it? Just need to know she’s safe, aye? She still has friends back home, and I said I’d make sure”

He dropped his head, then looked back up at me. In a very soft voice, he asked which one I had witnessed. I took my time, and a mouthful of tea, to find the words.

“Has she described any of them to you?”

“Oh god yes. Usually after they wake her up, yeah? Elaine, isn’t it? Elaine. How the hell is she still alive after all that shit?”

“Has she mentioned a dead child, Eric? I was at that one. She…”

A figure sat at the edge of the road, tears, shakes. No, he didn’t need that much information, but he was nodding. “The car seat, yeah. Probably the worst one, after the fire, and after Melanie. You probably heard about that one even over in Wales”

“The bridge?”

“Yes. It’s what brought Steph into our life, and she’s been a godsend, but that was the one that took her indoors, which is one of the very few decent things to come out of that particular incident. Bastards. Sorry, but we’ve just been through something else, yeah, and, well”

“Shot copper?”

“Least of it, Elaine. Fagin group, using an underage girl to pay for some, er, assistance. We’ve got the boy, witness like, staying next door. Jim’s with him now”

I took some more tea to get rid of the sudden bad taste I had found in my mouth. I had, of course, followed the case, but having it presented to me like that was different and far more painful, more intimately disturbing.

“The boy you mentioned?”

“Darren? Coming on in leaps and bounds. Absolutely worships Annie. He’ll be on the controls of some game or other with Jim. Look, this is depressing, going over shit like that. Have I passed scrutiny?”

“Do you care for her? Really?”

Suddenly he grinned, and it was a transformation. “How many times have I been asked that? Look, such a good mate, over so many years, yeah, and suddenly all the crap she’s been hiding under is stripped away, and before you ask, no I didn’t”

“Didn’t what?”

“Didn’t see it straight off. Not easy for me, straight bloke, yeah? But, well, she is just so…”

He groped for the words for a couple of seconds. “Just so bloody ANNIE, if you see what I mean. Look, they’re going to be doing their thing in a bit, and you have to see them in action. Beer? Wine?”

“No ta. I’ve got to keep it together tonight There’s another reason I’m here, a bit, well, can you keep a secret from her?”

“No”

“Good answer. OK, I’ll just say that there are a few people back home who care deeply about her, and I will be reporting back. Simple, aye?”

“Male or female people?”

“You should be in my job, boy. Both, I suspect”

“Ah. I see. Then I absolutely do not need to know anything more. All I will say is that I believe she is finally seeing that this can be a good world to live in and, well, shit… I love her, love her deeply, and that is all you need to know”

Suddenly we were hugging, and he had a few tears, and fuck it, so did I.

The two women were just setting up as I went out to rejoin my wife, leaving one sweet man to wash his face and recover his smile. Various instruments were laid out in the marquee, and a thin-faced boy was talking with various members of whichever set of people they belonged to. Steph caught my eye, and I whispered quietly to her “How mad tonight?” to get the response “Depends on Annie” and a wink.

Eric finally reappeared, giving me a squeeze as he passed, and introduced the musicians with a grin, and off they went, and she was good, really good, her personality so different as she stalked the little stage area with heels and flute. It was mostly tumpty-tumpty stuff, but people were dancing to it, and the players were clearly enjoying what they were doing, but it all changed when they did a longer piece, quite dark in mood, with some really subtle playing by the boy on an Irish drum thing. What caught my eye was the look on their faces as they played, eyes closed in almost every one of them, and the slow return to normality and delighted animation afterwards. They were seriously good, all of them.

A few minutes later, though, Annie turned to the other drummer. “Jan, get some sounds on the system, aye?” and walked over to some new arrivals after another quick word with the boy. A few words with the newcomers, and she started off over the grass in stiletto heels, for fuck’s sake. Had nobody warned her? I started to laugh, and I couldn’t hold it in until a hand came down on my shoulder. It belonged to a very tall woman with pillar-box-red hair, who muttered “Not now, girl. She’s doing it deliberately. You are?”

“Elaine. Colleague from down home, aye?”

“Sar’s big sis?”

“Aye. And you…”

I caught something in her expression. “Ah. The one in comfy shoes been looking after her, aye? Ginny?”

“Fuck yeah! Now, we’ve got something unexpected here. Did you see the girl that’s gone with Annie?”

“Aye”

Two and two added themselves together in my head, and my respect for the new woman increased dramatically. I looked up at Ginny, and I didn’t need to ask, because she just sighed and said “They started on her when she was only nine, girl. Fucking nine. So do me a favour, cause I can see you is being all teetotallous tonight, and just help me watch some fucking backs? Den’s getting pissed, so’s Stewie, and I don’t think one little girl is doing ‘man’ this evening”

So I did, and it went well, right up to the point where Jan the other drummer starting hitting some cow bell thing, and Hywel began singing Jethro Tull, and then the Metallica he and Steph had done at Sar’s wedding, and it was loud, and all three soloists were astonishingly good, and I just had to get down and as dirty as I could.

And a little blonde rape victim was there with us all, showing the world she was still alive.



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