“Martin!” Charlie called out, stopping Martin in his tracks. He turned to face his boss across the reception area. Charlie jogged toward him.
“Have you seen Duffy recently? She seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth”
Martin considered the question for a moment before answering, “Can’t say that I’ve seen her in a while actually.” He took a closer look at his expression, “You worried?”
“She’ll turn up” Martin said dismissively.
“It’s just after those deaths yesterday she was a bit shaken…” Charlie continued.
“Maybe she has gone AWOL then?” Martin replied, hoping Charlie didn’t catch the tone of optimism at the thought of Duffy being gone.
“She doesn’t strike me as the type. OK, so she’s a bit green but I had her down as a bit more of a fighter than that.” His hand drifted up to rub the back of his head as he spoke, and his gaze wandered around the department to see if he could spy his missing nurse.
“You’ve only known her a matter of days Boss…”
Charlie registered the sensibility of his statement but was still reluctant to drop his initial character assessment. He prided himself on his ability to read people accurately which had been honed over his years working as a nurse.
“Perhaps. Who was she seeing to when you last saw her?”
“Um…That Frankie fella. She was taking him to the showers. He certainly needed it!”
“Right, I’ll check the cubicles, could you check the shower?”
“If you want, but I don’t see the point, she’s probably just in the canteen or upstairs gossiping with her friends. You know what women are like”
Charlie ignored his tone and smiled appreciatively, “Thank you”.
The trip to the basement incinerator wasn’t a very long one, but with Frankie’s wounded leg slowing them down it took him and Duffy a longer than average time to get there. The whole journey Duffy prayed that someone would stop them and ask where they were going, but the first few people didn’t register anything unusual about a nurse taking a patient for a walk, even if said nurse looked suspiciously as if she’d been lying on wet floor. Once they’d got to the basement they stopped seeing anyone at all. There wasn’t even anyone on guard in the incinerator room.
Frankie who had made the journey with Duffy supporting him awkwardly around the waist, suddenly pulled himself free of her and pushed her into the room in front of him. It was all but empty. No bags of waste, nothing that could possibly contain his old clothes.
He took a good look around before hobbling to the wall to prop himself up against, “Where?”
“I-I-I don’t know, I think they might have already been destroyed…”
He let out a howl, like nothing she’d ever heard before, and started to pummel the solid concrete wall with balled fists.
With his back now facing her she realised that she had the chance to flee, but for some reason she didn’t take it. It was an instinctive decision and it took her brain a moment to catch up and understand what it was that was compelling her to stay. Frankie, mad scary Frankie, was crying. Each beat of his hand against the wall became more feeble as his energy drained away from him, and after a few more seconds he had slumped to the ground.
He didn’t look so frightening anymore. He looked weak, pitiful, and he looked like he needed help. Duffy had never had any overly grand ideas about saving the world, but she had got interested in nursing because she felt that it was a way to do some good, to help people when they needed it the most. So even though every rational fibre in her body was screaming for her to turn and get away as fast as possible she found herself walking toward the shattered figure and kneeling on the cold hard floor beside him.
“Go away!” The venom had gone from his voice to be replaced by a pitiful whine.
“I can’t leave you here. I could get in trouble like, for losing my patient”. Although given the circumstances it was unlikely to be true, Duffy’s quiet determination not to leave added believability to her statement and Frankie didn’t challenge her on it.
He glanced down at her hand, a small pool of blood was forming in her palm as she held it carefully against her chest.
“What’s that?” He said pointing; distracted from his own problems by the sight.
“Just a cut” she replied with a hint of hopefulness in her voice. She didn’t think it could be deep, but it almost certainly still contained some of the glass from her watch face, and goodness knows what else from the floor of the shower room. And it stung considerably.
“From what; when?”
“When you… when I fell.” She indicated the damaged fob watch still hanging from her damp and dishevelled uniform.
“Does it hurt?”
“No. Not really” She lied.
“Sorry about yer watch”
“It’s only a watch”. Which wasn’t quite true either. It was a symbol that she was a proper nurse, and as such she valued it far above it’s actual cost.
“Yeah but it’s my fault it got broke. It wasn’t mine, but I broke it”. He shook his head angrily at himself, murmuring under his breath.
“I took your clothes… I didn’t mean to, honest, but… I guess we’re even now, yeah?” Duffy suggested tentatively. He stopped his murmuring and looked at her, scrutinising every inch of her face.
“You’ve got an honest face. I believe you didn’t mean to steal. But people do you know. They take my stuff, and I can’t do nothing about it. They just take it all. Just like that!” From his state of relative calm, Duffy could see him getting himself worked up again. Fighting with her nerves she stayed put and tried to placate him once more.
“Who do you mean?”
“Them!” He made a grand sweep on his arm, making Duffy flinch away a little.
“All of them. The banks. Government. Her. They take it all away. Leave you nothing.” He shoved his hand deep into his tangled hair, obviously remembering something from his past.
He made a small growling noise, and muttered something indistinguishable, “You don’t understand. No one does. They take everything away, and don’t understand what it does to yer. She never understood neither. It’s not fair”.
“Who’s ‘she’? Frankie? Who didn’t understand?”
His eyes narrowed into slits, “Bev”.
He sighed as if he was talking to an idiot, “My wife! Was. Ex. Gone now. Went when I couldn’t buy her stuff no more. Took everything I had left an’ all”.
“Sorry? Sorry’s no good. Don’t bring it back. Don’t bring her back. All gone, all gone”. He shook his head again, as he retreated back into his thoughts.
“I wasn’t always like this, you know”.
“I know.” She spoke softly, hoping that if she could gain his trust just a little more then she could convince him to return to casualty. “What happened?”
“My Dad died, left me the business. Bev said we could take it and make it a success. We took out loans and a mortgage, and I tried. I did. She said I was useless when she left me. Tax man crippled me; Bank took back all the loans plus interest,” he spat in clear disgust. “Sold my stuff from under me. It’s not fair. It didn’t belong to them but they took it all anyway. Greedy bastards!”
“I think so” It started to make a confused sort of sense to her. No wonder he was so protective about his belongings if he’d lost everything once already. He clearly had some sort of deeper psychological problem as well though and her mind raced through her thin knowledge of admissions procedures to see if she could get him some proper help.
“They’d do it to you as soon as look at you. They don’t care. You’re not a person to them. No feelings, no life. They’d rip the shirt off your back. They don’t give you a chance”.
“How long ago was it?”
“I don’t know. Years”.
“And you’ve been living on the street since?”
“Under the bridge” He corrected her.
She conceded the big difference that made, “Sorry, you’ve been living under the bridge since?”
“Yeah. It’s my place now. Mine, and no kid’s gonna take it from me”. He clutched protectively at his leg as if remembering his injury for the first time since he had sat down.
“Do you want to go upstairs again so I can finish seeing to that wound?”
He shrugged and whined once again, “What about my clothes?”
“I’ll find you some. And I’ll talk to someone about finding you a proper place to live. I mean, I’m sure your spot under the bridge is, er, nice, but it’d be nice to have a roof over your head again, wouldn’t it?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I want to. All you have to do is come back upstairs. I’ll sort the rest”.
He looked at her incredulously. She was the first person to be anything approaching kind to him in years and he wasn’t used to it.
She smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging manner, and stood up slowly. Then Duffy held out her good hand and helped him off the floor, and held on to him as he limped his way back up to the department.
Duffy barely made it through the doors and into the cubicle area before the weight of Frankie, coupled with the relief of being back in familiar territory conspired against her and she felt her knees buckle under her.
Even as she expected to go crashing to the floor she felt a strong pair of hands grab her elbows from behind and support her enough for her to regain her balance. She gratefully gave the job of supporting the now docile Frankie to her helper and turned around to see who she should be thanking.
“Are you being all right?” Kuba asked with a slight frown.
Duffy nodded faintly, “Fine thanks. Could you take Frankie to his cubicle please. Frankie, I’ll be there in a second to sort out your leg”.
Kuba did as he had been asked, and Frankie went quietly with him. Duffy meanwhile lurched to the first seat she could find and sank into it gratefully, holding her head in one hand and staring into the growing blood stain of the other.
“Where’ve you been? Charlie’s been looking everywhere for you” Duffy looked up to see Martin standing over her looking decidedly displeased.
“I was with a patient. Like you told me to be”.
“I didn’t tell you to vanish for an hour though, did I?”
“No excuses. I think I should be having a word in Charlie’s ear about whether you should stay in this department…” His tone was unmistakable; she was being threatened. But her chance to discover precisely why he was threatening her escaped as Charlie and Megan advanced on their position, and Martin slunk off to go about his work.
“Duffy pet, are you alright?” Megan came up close to her, bending down a little to look her straight in the eyes.
“I’m fine Megan”.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Megan commented at the sight of Duffy’s abnormally pale skin.
“Honestly I’m alright!” She protested, but it didn’t come out sounding nearly as positive as she wanted it to.
Megan refused to take that as an answer, “I’ll go and make you a cup of tea. Lots of sugar. That’ll help”. Her mind made up, Megan walked off to the staff room, and Charlie took her place next to Duffy, giving her exactly the same concerned look.
“Charlie, I’m OK…”
“So you say, but… hey, what did you do your hand?” He took her hand in his and peered at it, while his other hand automatically found a dressing and he set about cleaning it up.
“I cut it on my watch. Look it’s hardly life threatening”.
“That isn’t the point. Injuries at work have to be logged. Are you up to date with all your shots?”
“Course I am. What do you take me for?”
Charlie ignored her and nodded to himself, “Good, now where have you been all this time Duffy. I’ve been looking all over the department, so has Megan.”
“It’s a bit of a long story actually”.
“Well, you can tell mean all about it as I see to this”.
Duffy took a deep breath and recounted the story of her trip to the shower, and then to the basement as Charlie cleaned and dressed the cut on her hand. It was strange to be describing the events over again; a part of her could barely believe that it had all happened and she found herself playing down the danger she’d felt she was in at the time and concentrating on trying to engage Charlie’s sympathy towards Frankie.
“You could press charges against him for this”.
“Oh Charlie, he’s ill. Pressing charges, making statements; how’s that going to help either of us?”
“Kidnapping is a serious offence.” Charlie sat back in his chair, with an expression a cross between angry and worried.
“We can’t let people think they can get away with it” He continued undeterred by her outburst.
“Well, I won’t tell no one if you don’t!”
“It’s not a joking matter Duffy.”
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s over now. No harm done. I coped.” She smiled at the sound of her own words. “I coped Charlie. I calmed him down, I got him back up here, and I did it all on my own”.
“That’s as maybe…” He started, but there was something in her triumphant grin that stopped him from saying more. “Just be a bit more careful in future, eh?”
“I will Charlie. Promise.”
Go to Part Ten