BROKEN by Donna Siggers

© (2017)

Ch 1

Returning to the city had put me on high alert. Old anxieties returned without warning, acting as a reminder of why I’d moved so far away. Streets that once felt familiar and comforting now seemed alien. My senses were working overtime, each little sound screaming its warning to me. With a palpitating heart and an overwhelming need to gain control, I made my way through the streets of London. I longed to return to the tranquility of my new home, the little Cornish fishing village I’d fallen in love with four years ago.

 Each time a hooded figure came into view – and they were in abundance – fear engulfed me. In my mind, each carried a knife and placed me in danger. My stomach clenched in anticipation of attack. Realistically, I knew these people had no interest in me and that my reaction to them was my own; unfortunately my brain was having trouble keeping up with this concept and my anxiety levels continued to climb. Making a mental note to contact my therapist on Monday morning, I continued to stroll the pathways of London.

 The three or so hours spent with two of my closest friends at our favourite restaurant had been a long time coming. Busy lives meant that shared time was scarce these days. But we’d made the effort. Wine had flowed and laughter had filled the air as news was shared, memories recounted and new ones born. For just one evening only, the three detectives were back in the city. We’d made a good team back in the day. Mel, Jen, and me.

 Hugs, tears and promises that next time we’d not leave it so long saw the three of us going our separate ways and back to what had become very separate lives. Un-beknown to us, our lives were destined to become entangled in a way that would haunt my very existence.

 The cases we worked together were tough ones. The sort that either ripped friendships apart, or bonded them for life. The three of us had had a unique way of coping with the stresses that came with our job and it had got us through some very tough times: our humour was dark to those who didn’t understand. Our last case was particularly harrowing. Despite us getting a good result, we lived with the daily guilt that solving this one sooner would have saved many women from their fate. How these women lived with the consequences of their ordeals was beyond me and I didn’t think I could ever have their strength of character. Each of them had begged for him to take their lives before he had released them. Even then they weren’t free from his grip – they had begged the medics to put them out of their misery. Now living an assumed life, with their mental and physical scars, these women were somewhere within the witness protection programme.

 If I had gone through their ordeal I am convinced I would have taken my own life; I know at least one of them had. There wasn’t a day that passed when they weren’t in my thoughts and I’d had to factor that into my routine to prevent it from controlling my life. I wondered what had become of each of them. Some had wanted to stay in touch with the three of us but it was not allowed: professional distance for us and protection for them.  

 That case had changed each of us. Jen had hit the wine in a big way, she took sick days too often and was seriously not coping with the psychological impact of viewing so much devastation. Mel had struggled to remain in relationships since the case, drifting from one to the next. When she finally settled it was with a no-hoper type that she’d never have given herself to before. For me, I started taking unnecessary risks. Eventually our boss, Phil Andrews, had called us into a meeting. He had arranged for us to be separated and that meant Jen and Mel were to be moved to a different station. They would remain in London but we would never work a case together again. It had been the end of a very successful era and, in my humble opinion, such a shame that we hadn’t been able to continue as a team. I remained at Paddington Green, where Phil partnered me with a man who seemed grounded and where, I was about to learn, Phil could keep a close eye on me. He had taken me under his wing, promised Phil he’d take good care of me, and led me directly into the risk-taking I had learned to love. Our risks got results. Sometimes they got us hurt and we both had the scars to prove it.

 Having spent longer with the girls than expected, I hoped I wasn’t going to miss the train. There would be others of course, but none with the connections I needed closer to home. As I rushed through the streets the coolness of the air chilled me. The tiny hairs on my arms were standing to attention and I cursed under my breath at not picking up a jacket when I left home this morning. I had been rushing about and running errands before I’d left and had felt the warmth of the early autumn sun. It had lulled me into a false sense that it was warmer than it was. What had I been thinking? October in England is hardly the time to forget your coat.

 Turning into Paddington station, I glanced at the clock and was immediately annoyed with myself. With moments to go, I broke into a jog and headed towards my platform just in time to watch my train slowly build momentum as it drew away. I hadn’t even reached the ticket gate. Anxiety rose like bile from the pit of my stomach as I realised I was stranded in a city in which I no longer belonged.

 Suddenly sensing something wasn’t quite right within my world, a cold shiver ran along my spine. Unable to place what was wrong, I felt the muscles tighten in my shoulders. Tension was beginning to build in my body and if I wasn’t careful I would end up with a migraine. This was the last thing I needed. With no other choice than to place my fear to the back of my mind and focus my energy on finding somewhere safe to spend the next few hours, I turned to leave.

 Stranded in what had become such foreign terrain, I looked towards the exit and into the darkening sky, cursing under my breath once more. The tension in my shoulders was now beginning to creep up my neck and behind my eyes. Rolling my shoulders, first forwards and then backwards, I attempted to loosen them. Although people were milling about, the station wasn’t busy. I wished it was because quiet stations unsettled me and I wasn’t sure how much more anxiety my mind could cope with this day. Unsure what to do, I started walking towards the exit. Ahead of me were three hooded youths, who did nothing to help my mood. They were walking with purpose straight for me. Each of their black sweatshirts had what looked like two yellow owl eyes on the hoods. Fear surged through me as easily as the blood in my veins and my heart rate intensified. There was no choice other than continuing my planned path and pretending that I hadn’t noticed them, nor that they bothered me. It took every single piece of remaining self-control to place one foot in front of the other. One of them bumped shoulders with me as we passed one another and his shrill laughter filled the air, the sound penetrating my eardrums and seemingly bouncing around in my head. My heart rate soared but I fought every instinct to turn around and run.

 Their trainers were squeaking on the floor as they walked and when the sound pattern changed I was convinced they’d turned around to follow me. My pace automatically quickened. Hurrying through the exit and on to the street, I could sense them closing in on me. Their footsteps now sounded hollow as their trainers made contact with the paving slabs and I knew they were running. Instinct was telling me that my survival depended upon reaching a taxi before they caught me up. Rarely were my instincts wrong. Acting quickly, I broke into a sprint and made haste for the line of taxis waiting, opened a door and clambered in,

 “Please just drive. Now!” I said with urgency in my voice. “Paddington Green Police Station. Please hurry.” Anxiety hung in the air and I had no intention of making any apology for my rudeness.

 As the driver pulled away, I turned around and took a look at my pursuers. All I glimpsed was the three of them pulling their hoods over their faces; these individuals did not want to be identified. I wondered what business they had with me. I checked my bag and, to my relief still had my purse. During my moment of distraction at missing my train, it would have been easy for them to have robbed me as they brushed shoulders with me. They would have read my body language and could have easily seen how intimidated I had been because of their presence. Being away from the city had softened me,
 "Is everything alright, lady?”

 “Please hurry,” I said.

 “Those boys giving you grief? Not seem them about before. Some kind of new gang I expect.” He pulled away and started to negotiate the traffic.

 Not in the mood for chatting with a cabbie, whose company I would keep for just five minutes, I forced a smile that he saw through his rear-view mirror and stayed quiet. It seemed absurd to get in a cab for a journey that would take me less than ten minutes on foot, but I didn’t feel safe on the street. In fact, I was sure that right now, it was fair to say, I was unsafe on the street. As we approached the station, I glanced at the fare. Because of the late hour, it was nearly ten pounds, so I handed the driver fifteen,

 “Thank you,” I said as I opened my door.

 Half walking, half breaking into a jog, I hurried away from the taxi towards the door of my old workplace. Fumbling with the door, I barged my way through into the building where I hoped to find someone on duty that I knew. It had been over four years since I’d last been here and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. A wave of nostalgia swept through me as the familiar smells and sounds hit my senses.

 Hearing a familiar voice from behind a collection of people brought me to a standstill. I felt my lips tighten as they curled into a broad smile. My heart also started to beat a little faster but for reasons other than fear or anxiety. Excitement and anticipation now surged through my veins as I pulled myself together and started walking again, watching and listening as this officer went about a job he was far too qualified for. Somehow, through the noise and the business at hand he met my gaze, looking genuinely pleased to see me. Feeling a surge of energy travel through my body, instinct told me that time apart had done nothing to suppress my feelings for this man.

 Just over four years ago my partner and I had been in pursuit of a suspect. We’d chased him on foot into a deserted train station late at night. Unbeknown to us our suspect had had help waiting in the shadows. I was stabbed in the back with a knife and lost a lot of blood. The two men escaped leaving my partner, Sam Cooper to stem my bleeding until medical help arrived. He saved my life that night. After recovering I couldn’t face returning to work. It was a combination of things really, but mainly I felt that I just couldn’t remain in London. Selling up and moving so far away I’d put physical distance between my old life and my new one, hoping that emotional distance would follow. There was no doubt that Cornwall had been good for me: I’d chosen a busy tourist area, so always had plenty of people staying who needed my attention. I’d made new friends too.

 Not one of my colleagues had made the journey to Cornwall to see me though, despite how close we’d become over the years, which had hurt in all honesty. They all seemed to have had the same response, that they respected my need for space. Each of them had invited me to stay with them instead, which I’d politely declined. We were stuck in this catch-twenty-two situation of complete stubbornness and denial of just how much we needed to get together.

 In our modern world of mobile phones and social media, however we made our friendships work. Let’s face it, there really is no excuse not to stay in touch these days! Not many weeks passed without contact between us all on our group chats and the banter flowed as if the geographical distance didn’t exist between us.

 Jen and Mel had moved on too, to the Midlands and Norfolk respectively. Unlike me, they hadn’t left law enforcement, but had opted for quieter areas in which to operate. They saw my change of occupation and location as running away from my past and the truth. I couldn’t blame them for thinking this way, to be honest. Despite my public denial, I had run as hard and as fast as my tired legs would carry me. My two friends had seen right through me. To say I hadn’t looked back would be a big fat lie, so I won’t say it. The very reason for my departure was now standing before me, the pull on my heartstrings as strong as ever. Yet he was as out of reach as ever before.

 Married.

 Just my luck.

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