Authors: Alison Carpenter
"I'm fine, just a bit of a headache."
Jo was remembering coming to awareness and finding herself surrounded by a dozen or more curious faces. "They think I'm either pregnant or drugged up to the eyeballs," she said with a tired sigh.
"Do you know what happened back there?"
Jo shook her head. "No. Just my wild ways catching up with me."
"It scared me a little, Jo," said Harry.
"Scared me too. I'm going to go home and go to bed. I don't think having just four hour's sleep agrees with me." Jo eyed her best friend. "What do you want to do?"
"I'll stay with you." A pause. "If that's ok."
"Of course it is. I could do with some company."
"I thought you already had some."
Jo shook her head. "I told her I probably wouldn't be back all day. She's probably gone."
They were silent for a moment.
"Jo?" Harry looked across at her friend who was sitting quietly with her eyes closed. The dark-haired woman didn't answer but turned blue eyes on her.
"Doesn't matter," said Harry, just as the Rolls pulled into the courtyard.
As Jo had suspected, the small house was empty, her guest had left. Harry dropped onto the chair and watched as Jo eased her body into the sofa Her back was hurting where she had twisted as she fainted, and her head was thumping.
"Shall I make some tea?" Harry asked, pulling herself up. "And I'll grab you some painkillers." She didn't wait for an answer and made her way to the kitchen.
Some ten minutes later, Harry emerged from the kitchen with a couple of mugs. Jo was sitting on the sofa, her head resting against the back, her eyes closed. "Sorry," Harry said as she placed the mug of tea on the coffee table and put a couple of Nurofen in Jo's hand. "Take these, then see if you can get to sleep."
Harry watched her with worried eyes.
They had been friends for many years, but at no time desired to take their relationship any further. Both acknowledged the other's beauty, but neither found the other physically alluring. True, Harry was blonde, and every woman Jo had ever wooed had been blonde, but Jo always thought of her as just a good friend. And she didn't want to complicate their very close relationship with sex.
After taking the tablets and drinking her tea, Jo quickly made herself comfortable and started to drift off.
"Mmm?" was the sleepy response.
"Did you know the girl in the picture?" Harry sank into the plush armchair, taking in her friend's profile, barely visible in the darkened room. Though only two-thirty in the afternoon, it was a dull day, and, with the blinds pulled closed, it was dark in the lounge.
Jo was quiet for a long time. "No, I don't think so."
"Well, you had a hell of a reaction to it." Harry studied the contents of her mug for a long moment. "You said something. Before you passed out, you said something."
It took quite an effort for Jo to open her eyes and turn them back towards her friend. "What are you talking about?" There was a hint of annoyance in the tired voice.
"You said, `It's her.`"
Harry shrugged. "That's what you said. That's why I wondered if you knew her."
"No, I didn't know her. I'm just tired, Harry." Jo stood abruptly. "Look..." She once again pinched the bridge of her nose. Her face was pale and her eyes scrunched tightly shut. "Look," she said again, only softer. "I'm going to bed." Her eyes opened and she looked at her friend. "You're welcome to stay... you know that."
"Yeah, I know," said Harry, standing and giving her friend a peck on the cheek. "You give me a shout if you need anything."
Jo smiled down at her friend. "I will." She gave her a brief squeeze on her shoulder and disappeared up the short flight of stairs and into her bedroom. She was asleep less than five minutes later.
Harry was dozing on the sofa, the TV remote control hanging precariously from one hand. She flicked through the channels, her tired brain taking in the usual Saturday evening fare of quiz shows and talent shows that terrestrial TV seemed to think its customers preferred. Flicking to satellite, she found American dramas. She came to one particular channel and dwelt a little longer there, admiring the physique of the two leading ladies. Being one who spent most Saturday nights in the bars and nightclubs of London, she wasn't familiar with the usual Saturday night menu of shows. She made a mental note to get out the manual for her VCR and to finally master setting the timer.
Whatever it was that she was watching ended, and she proceeded to flick through the channels. She came across a rerun of some quiz show, and watched in fascination as one of the contestants struggled with what was, to her, a simple question. The quizmaster oozed self-admiration and posed the question again. A few thousand pounds rested on his answer.
"Princess Anne is older than Prince Charles. True or False?... I'm going to have to put the timer on."
"Can I call a friend?" The contestant fidgeted in his seat.
"You can; do you want to?"
The contestant thought for a moment. "No. I'll answer... False."
"Is that your final answer?"
The contestant hesitated, his face draining of all colour.
Harry was caught in the moment. "Come on, dipstick. You're right; everyone knows that."
"You don't want to change your mind?" The quizmaster tapped on his board with his pen.
The contestant looked to the audience, obviously having family out there somewhere. He looked like a man condemned, about to walk the final short distance. "False," he said again, his voice cracking under the strain.
"You had six thousand pounds," the quizmaster said, his face impassive. There was silence ... a long silence ... the tapping of the pen on the board the only sound. "You now have twelve thousand pounds."
The audience erupted; the contestant looked just about ready to faint.
Harry switched channels quickly, unable to stand much more of the torture of the poor man. He was only on six thousand pounds; what would happen when he got to double figures and the more difficult questions? "Who the hell doesn't know that Prince Charles is the oldest of the Royal kids?" Harry asked herself.
She flicked through a few more channels, watching some real life cop show from the States for a while, and then coming across `The World's Scariest Police Videos`, which contrary to the show's description seemed to all take place on American highways.
It was then that she heard Jo. At first she thought she was calling for her, but as she neared the bedroom door she realised that her friend was in some kind of distress.
She burst into the room to find the naked, dark woman thrashing wildly in her sleep, seemingly trying to disentangle herself from the duvet cover, which was coming loose from the quilt. Cries, apparently of pain and anguish, came from her.
"Jo, stop," she said, climbing onto the bed with her friend and trying to get control of the long arms which threatened to deliver a painful blow in their thrashing.
"Noo, don't go!" Jo sat bolt upright, her arms reaching for something unseen. Her eyes were wide, scanning the dark of her bedroom, which was lit only by the light from beyond the bedroom door.
The blue gaze fell upon her friend, then Jo's face twisted and she collapsed back onto the bed and curled in on herself. Her arms were crossed across her chest, as if she was in great pain.
"Jo?" It was like the calm after the storm; only the ragged breathing of the tall woman was audible now. Harry reached out and laid a hand on a heaving shoulder. "Are you alright?"
Jo didn't reply for a long moment. "What time is it?" Her voice was hoarse, her breathing just coming under her control.
"Um." Harry turned her watch towards the light filtering through the doorway. "Just after nine-thirty."
Jo eased herself out of bed, wondering how she missed running the London marathon earlier that day. Surely she must have; her body was certainly telling her that it had gone through some sort of traumatic event that day. She pulled on a robe and shuffled out of the room, watched all the time by a bemused Harry.
Harry shook her head and followed her friend down to the lounge.
"What is this?" asked Jo, trying to focus sleepy eyes on the TV, which was showing the view from a police car as it followed a motorcyclist across rough ground.
Harry picked up the remote and silenced the TV.
Jo sat on the sofa, Harry on the armchair.
"You ok?" asked the blonde.
Jo looked as though she'd been awake a week, instead of asleep for the past few hours. "Nightmare. Christ, I haven't had a nightmare since I was at boarding school. Had them all the time there. Bloody nuns."
"You want to tell me what it was about?"
Jo shrugged. "Can't really remember."
"But you know it was a nightmare?"
"I was scared." Jo shook her head gently. "I know I was scared."
"Was someone chasing you?" Harry leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, her chin cupped in her hands.
Jo thought for a moment. "No, someone was leaving me." She was remembering the dream, remembering the feeling of pain and helplessness. "There was nothing I could do. No way I could reach her."
"Her?" Harry sat upright; now this was getting interesting.
Jo sighed, a long, knowing sigh. Harry must think she was losing her marbles.
"Was it...?" Harry began.
Another sigh, and Jo nodded her head. "It was the girl in the picture."
"So, you do know her?"
"I'm sure I don't." She leaned her head against the sofa back. "I mean, I don't think so. I've met a lot of women...." She paused hearing Harry's snort.
"Sorry," said the blonde.
"How would I know someone who lives on the street?"
"Maybe she hasn't been on the street long."
Jo ground the heel of her hand into her forehead, trying to ease the pain that was building there. "She just turned away from me and left me."
Harry was quiet, waiting for her friend to continue.
"I couldn't breathe," Jo said. "My legs wouldn't move. I watched her go and did nothing to stop her."
Harry watched Jo carefully; the woman looked distraught. Her hair was stringy and falling in a tangled mess about her shoulders. A sheen of sweat covered her face and chest. Her hands clutched at the material of her robe. "Can you remember how the dream started?"
Jo was silent, and for a while Harry wondered if she was going to answer.
"I was walking through..." she thought for a moment, "... alleyways, I think. It was somewhere dark, and cold."
"And she was there?"
"Not to start with. But then she was."
Harry squirmed on the chair, intrigued. "Did you talk to her?"
One perfectly formed eyebrow rose and blue eyes pinned the blonde. "This is a dream, Harry. I can remember snippets, images, feelings. I can't remember conversations."
"So, what did you feel?"
Jo looked into the artificial flames of the fire. "Cold, I felt cold."
Breathe, just breathe.
Jo bolted upright, once again clutching her chest against the sharp pain that manifested itself right next to her heart.
A sleep-tousled blonde head peeked up from beneath the quilt beside her.
"You dreaming again?" asked Harry, looking up at her friend's dark profile, barely seen in the darkness.
For the first time since she was a child, the darkness had disturbed Jo, resulting in her leaving the landing light on and asking her friend to sleep with her in her bed, rather than in the guestroom.
"Yeah," was all that Jo could manage as she held the flat of her hand against her own wildly beating heart.
"Same thing?" asked Harry, pulling herself to a sitting position and peering around Jo to see the illuminated numbers on the radio alarm. 01.37
"Same woman?" Harry waited while her friend composed herself.
Jo swallowed hard, her eyes tightly shut. "I'm going mad, aren't I?" she said, burying her face in her hands.
"I think maybe you're very tired," Harry said softly, "and the photos in the gallery affected you in some way. The tired mind can play strange tricks on you sometimes."
Jo suddenly threw the quilt back and leaped out of bed. "Where are you going?" Harry asked, pulling the quilt around herself.
"To have a chat with Mother."
"Um. Jo?" Harry began, but Jo was already heading out of the bedroom, pulling on a robe as she went.
By the time Harry reached the lounge, Jo had turned on the gas fire and was arguing with her Mother's chauffeur.
"I really don't care, Jon. I want to talk to her and I want to talk to her now."
Harry reached out a tentative hand and rested it on Jo's shoulder. "It's really late, Jo," she said quietly.
The tall woman ignored her. "What?" she barked into the phone. "Then I'll come over there; which would you prefer?"
Harry moved away from the angry woman, realising she was being ignored, and watched Jo as she sat on the sofa, the phone still hard against her ear.
"Mother?" Jo's eyes were closed, a look of something approaching pain on her face. "Yes, I know." She was obviously fending off an irate woman. "Well, it'll only take a moment. I need a phone number."
Harry wordlessly handed Jo a pad of notepaper; the tall woman took it and the pen that was also handed to her.
"Charles DeBurgh. Never mind that; do you have the number?"
Jo scribbled something down and put the phone down without wishing her mother a good night.
She punched in the numbers her mother had given her and waited while the phone rang. It was answered.
"Charles, Joanna Holbrook-Sutherland. I need to see you......... Yes, I do know what the time is.......... No, not in the morning. Now. I need an address.... " Jo took a deep breath. "Charles, how long did my mother promise you in the gallery?" Another pause, and the faintest of smiles graced the beautiful face. "Did she now? That long? I could have you out of there on Monday. Now then, give me an address." Jo once again scribbled something on the notepad. "I'll be there shortly."