The man in grey scrubs watched Mark with tired eyes. “You all right, son?”
Mark rubbed his eyes, and then nodded. “I’m fine. How is Miss Davies? Can I see her?”
“She’s out of surgery. She’s conscious and doing okay. Another thirty minutes and we’ll have her cleaned up and assessed. You can see her then.”
Mark stretched his legs, leaned against the seat and closed his eyes. He needed sleep. He had stayed up late last night ensuring that the list of car parts waiting at customs matched his order.
He glanced around the stark waiting room and let his shoulders droop. Without knowing it, he had been a knot of worry as he waited to hear the outcome of Celeste’s procedure.
A woman called his name. He looked up and the nurse’s uniform snapped him to full attention. He got to his feet. “Can I see Ms. Davies now?”
“Yes. Come this way.”
He followed her down the corridor, the only sound coming from her rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the tiles. A door whooshed open and then another. He stood in the doorway of a small room, hesitating to enter. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to the woman who stirred things inside him he didn’t understand.
He swallowed hard at the sight of the IV tubes attached to Celeste’s hand, which rested on top of the blanket. Her stillness disturbed him, so did the outline of the equipment, which encased her feet under the sheet. Was she hurt worse than he thought?
A hissing sound startled him, until he realized it came from the end of the bed. A network of tubes extended from her chest and led to a monitor above her bed. A flat clip enclosed her left index finger and a blood pressure cuff surrounded her arm.
Her other arm was swollen, with black sutures at the injury site, as though a child had made careless stitches in a life-sized doll. An orange substance mixed with blood, congealed at the site of the wound.
Someone had combed the hair back from Celeste’s face, revealing her narrow forehead and the high arch of her eyebrows. Tiny bits of matter—glass, and who knew what else—clung to her hair, and glinted at him. A pair of nasal prongs invaded her nostrils, supplying oxygen.
At any moment, he expected her lashes to lift and her stormy eyes to shoot fire at him. But they didn’t, and his breath caught. What if she didn’t wake up? He shut down his runaway thoughts and chastised himself for being stupid. The doctor had said she was awake.
Her lashes fluttered, and then lifted, cutting short his perusal. With her head tilted and her chin in the air, she’d always reminded him of pictures he’d seen of Nefertiti. Now her face was puffy and covered with tiny cuts. Her lips, devoid of her signature plum lipstick, opened. “What are you doing here?”
He cleared his throat, but had no answer for her.
She frowned, glanced around the room, and then her mouth drooped. By the time her eyes came back to him, he had prepared himself. “How are you feeling?”
“How d’you expect?” She cocked an eyebrow, but didn’t continue.
Inside, he sighed. She was going to make this difficult, but when had she ever been easy to handle? And she certainly had a right to be mad.
“Forget I asked. Clearly, you’re feeling well enough to back-chat me.”
She closed her eyes before she spoke, no doubt to shut him out. “I’m fine, Mark.”
The tears trickling into her hair said she was lying. He’d never seen her cry, which made him want to hug her for as long as she would let him. Then somehow, he’d try to find the words to tell her why he’d left Cayman without saying goodbye.
But no reason would be good enough. His fingers itched to rediscover her satiny skin, but he restrained himself. Injured or not, she’d make sure he knew his touch was not welcome. To occupy his hands, he shoved them in his pockets.
The nurse interrupted their standoff. “Mr. Weekes? Sorry, I have to ask you to leave now. She needs to rest.”
He touched Celeste’s arm then, fingers skimming her flesh. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Only her trembling eyelids acknowledged him. He filled his eyes: the matted hair, slight frown, Celeste’s sleek, yet sturdy form, which now seemed frail under the network of tubes. Then he left, carrying the weight of his guilt.
Mark scanned the room, trying to keep the distaste off his face. He hated police stations, having been inside them often enough to last a lifetime.
The policeman behind the desk folded his arms. “So you’re sure you don’t know why this happened?”
“Positive. I haven’t had a chance to find out why Celeste is in Xantrope. I guess she came with James as part of their usual arrangement.”
The officer angled his head to the side. “And what was that?”
“Sometimes she traveled with him as an escort.”
Frowning, the officer tapped his pen against the desk pad. “You mean she’s a pros—?”
“No, she’s not a prostitute!” Mark’s vehemence surprised him. Calm down, he told himself and let a few seconds go by before he spoke again. “She does it for him as a favor. James is…I shouldn’t be telling you this since it’s none of my business, but he was gay.”
“We’ll be speaking with Miss Davies as soon as she’s up to it. I suppose she can confirm that.”
Mark nodded. “I’ll be going to the hospital from here, so—”
“Not to worry. My men are in place.”
Mark got to his feet and shook the officer’s hand.
“Touch base with me,” he said, “if you think of anything helpful.”
He handed Mark a card, which he slid into his shirt pocket.
Mark hurried out of the building, feeling as though the walls were inching closer and threatening to hold him prisoner.
Even now, he wondered how he had avoided prison five years ago, before he left Xantrope. Mark suspected his cousin, Paul, had done things against the law to keep him out of jail, but he never asked, and Paul volunteered no information.
Now there was a man to admire. Passionate about family, yet he never hesitated to tear strips off Mark to keep him in line. From time to time, Mark wondered how Paul had managed to raise them both, despite the hardships during their teenage years.
Mark slid into the Toyota, keeping mental tabs on the jobs he had to complete. He would spend a fair amount of time at customs house later that afternoon to clear the goods he had imported, but before that he’d see Celeste. His watch confirmed that morning visiting hours had already come.
It had pained him to see Celeste lying in bed, unable to help herself. By now she would be giving the nurses hell. And he had his share to come.
His instincts had proven right. He should have listened when his spirit told him Celeste was on the island. Instead, he had ignored the unexplained, but certain knowledge, until he met her in the corridor of the restaurant last night.
The time seemed so short, but his fatigue confirmed that ages had passed since then. He’d gotten little sleep because he kept thinking how close Celeste had come to being shot to death.
For a long time, and based on his dealings with a mutual acquaintance, Mark suspected James was involved in dodgy business. However, Mark refused to believe that evading taxes on imported motor vehicle parts had led to James’s death. After Trevor’s murder, Mark made it a habit to mind his own affairs. Therefore, the police would not hear anything suspicious about James from him.
After clearing his visit with the nurse on duty, Mark strode down the hall toward Celeste’s room. She didn’t move when he entered, but once he walked forward and sat in the chair, she turned her head. “I see Xantrope’s version of Houdini is back.”
“You don’t give an inch, do you?”
“You’re a fine one to talk. I’m grateful and everything, but I still want to know why you’re here. You don’t need to save me. The doctors and nurses are on top of that.”
Why had he come? It wasn’t as if he didn’t know he’d have to put up with her feistiness. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t know anybody in Xantrope.” He let that soak in. “That’s why I’m here.”
“I don’t need you,” she said, tilting her head away from him.
He decided to play her game, despite knowing he ran the risk of losing his temper. “I know you don’t need me, Celeste. You never did. But I was concerned about you.”
She shot him an incredulous look. “Does that mean you don’t plan to—never mind.”
He smiled at her then. Trapped as she was under all the monitoring equipment, she was still determined to give him hell. Her swollen hand had to be giving her some aggravation, which helped explain why she was so irritable.
Voice husky, she said, “Don’t smile at me like that. I don’t see anything amusing at all in this situation.”
“I understand the police came to see you earlier.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Can you stop snapping at me for a minute?”
“You deserve something better?”
He closed his eyes. “You’re not well enough for all this stress.”
“Then maybe you should leave.”
“Not before I find out a couple of things.”
Letting her gaze sweep him from head to foot, she asked, “You with the police now?”
“No, but you got me mixed up with them, thanks to your dead fish.”
“Don’t talk about him like that. Orette was a good man.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that, but the police are quite interested in what he did to get himself knocked off that way.”
She raised her eyebrows, and then grunted, as though in pain. “And I’m supposed to know that?”
“You spent some time with him, so it’s possible you do know something.”
“Not enough to tell the police anything helpful.”
“The person who killed James is still at large, so—”
She hissed air through her teeth. “You deaf? Mi don’t know anything.”
Mark decided not to push her any further. Though Celeste acted as if she was up to challenging him, she wasn’t. She was in pain, and her eyelids kept dipping, as though she’d fall asleep inside a minute. And she did, while he sat watching her.
He debated going on his way and then coming back after his trip to customs, but decided to stay a while. Inevitably, his eyes settled on the equipment connected to her. No wonder she was crabby. Apart from the pain of the gunshot wound, she had to be scared shitless over having James murdered next to her. Not that she’d admit it. Celeste would never confess to fearing anything or needing anyone. She was stubborn like that.
A small purr escaped her, melting the mental barrier he had erected. She might think herself tough, but she’d soon find out she needed him.
The hospital planned to release her within a week, but the police wanted to keep her on the island. Mark did not want to be the one to give her that news. She would throw a tantrum just because.
He didn’t see how she could manage on her own in a hotel, so it would fall to him to put her up until she could leave. Though he had to work, he was sure he could arrange something suitable.
He approached the bed, studying her. The cuts were more numerous than he’d thought. She shifted, mumbled, and moved her wounded arm. Low in her throat, she whimpered, sending his mind back to the last time they had been together. He spent too much time thinking about making love to her, considering there were other women interested in sharing his bed.
Sighing, he placed his lips gently against her forehead, inhaling a mixture of dried blood and medicinal products.
He left the room, hoping things would be simple this time. She’d recuperate and leave the island, and his life would return to normal. But somehow, he doubted that; trouble trailed Celeste in the same way that night followed day.
About the Author
J.L. Campbell is a proud Jamaican and the author of Contraband, Distraction, Dissolution, Don’t Get Mad…Get Even, Giving up the Dream and Hardware (pen name Jayda McTyson). Campbell is always on the lookout for story making material, loves company and can usually be found lollygagging on her blog at http://thecharacterdepot. blogspot.com Link to her on Facebook or through her Twitter handle @JL_Campbell.