"Guests"

                                             The last few days had been difficult, for Robert, to say the least.  As a thin strand of sunlight cut a sliver through the darkness of his cell, he sat perched on the side of his bed, his bare feet cold against the stone floor.  Robert contemplated his situation.  By his best guess, he had already been in the "Hospital" for five days, and in that time he had spent most of his time in the cell.  Robert hadn't seen anyone but Eclipse, six times a day, three to deliver food, three to take his tray away, each time he hoped she'd allow some opening for him to ask or say something, but she never did.

                                               Sometime during his second day alone in the cell, Robert became aware of the smell.  His smell.  The cell only contained his bed, the wardrobe and a toilet, no sink or any other means with which to wash himself, and of course, he wasn't allowed to ask.  That evening Eclipse returned for his meal tray at about ten O'clock, or as close to as he could guess, Robert had taken to trying to figure out the time of day just by watching the sun rise and set, this method was problematic at best as he could only see a partial amount of the sky, it was like trying to view a house through the letter box!

                                                    By his estimates Eclipse brought his meals roughly the same time every day, seven to eight O'clock with breakfast, one to two pm with his lunch and then eight to nine pm with his supper.  On this particular evening, Robert had waited in front of his cell door, motioning towards the underside of his arms, his face contorted into one that looked remarkably like that of a child who had eaten something it didn't like and wanted something else.  Eclipse has simply walked into the room without paying him any attention at all, picked up the tray, turned to leave and before closing the cell door called,

"Good Monkey Boy!"

                                                    The food had actually taken Robert by surprise, considering the convict like way he was being expected to live, the food was very good, thoughts of bread and water being washed away by trays of bacon and eggs for breakfast, stuffed sandwiches for lunch and steak or pie for supper.  Robert wondered if the food was yet another gift for obedience.  The cell, he had quickly assumed, was probably bugged with microphones, talking to himself just to hear his own voice was becoming less easy not to do the more time without conversation went by, yet something told him any deviation of the rules would result in a punishment. 

                                                     Robert picked his feet up off the floor for what felt like the one hundredth time, wishing it would warm up a bit so he could fetch his socks from the wardrobe without having to hop on the cold floor. 
The "Hospital" was so quiet, the sun was barely up, sometime around six o'clock, Eclipse wouldn't arrive with his food anytime soon, yet he found himself staring at the heavy iron door, as if willing someone to knock or even just burst in.  His mind began to wonder as he stared, recognition setting in, of another time, another door he'd just stared at, the doorway of fate.

                                                      It was a dark, dank, wet afternoon.  The dismal grey of the estate apartment blocks looking bleaker still against the ash sky.  The two boys, one short, one tall, stood on an upper balcony of one of the blocks.  The shorter one, was wearing a collarless button down  black shirt and black jeans with hard black boots and a waste length black leather jacket, his ebony black hair had been slicked back over his head, his cold grey eyes narrowed on his target, the door across the balcony opposite him.  Both boys were sixteen years old, the taller, wearing ripped blue denim jeans, an old red sweat shirt one size two small and an old wax jacket, he had matted light brown hair, brown eyes and his mouth was always slightly open giving him the appearance of someone a little dim.

"I'm just sayin, if we just kicked the crap out of him, we could.....", the taller boy began, cut off by his companion,

"No." his voice was young, but Robert had already lost all trace of emotion from his voice,

"No, it must go this way, simply hurting him will not secure us control of the business.  If the old man ends up in hospital, the suppliers will visit him, ascertain who closed him down, so to speak, they will in turn come after us and we end up either on the run for a long time, or dead.  This way, the old man disappears, the suppliers will have no idea what to think other than what I tell them, I have met with them before so they know my face.  We continue to cut and distribute the stuff, which is what we've always done anyway.  By the time the suppliers become wary that the old man hasn't shown his face for a long time, we will be making more money than they would have thought possible from this mess of an estate!".

"But how can you be so sure we will make all this extra cash?",

"Because Connor," Robert replied, "We are not addicts, we do not use what we sell, we do not drink ourselves into stupidity every day, resulting in us buying more alcohol with the cash we need to pay for more supplies.  He's been useless since they took his kid away, we will finally be able to meet the full demand of the consumer and reap the rewards!"

Robert moved away from the railing and put what was supposed to be a reassuring hand on Connors shoulder,

"Come on", he turned and walked off down the walkway towards the door, Connor following in his wake, still looking very uncertain about what they were going to do.
As they drew closer, Robert began to make out more details of the door, the lime green paint almost completely chipped away, graffiti spread all over the face of the apartment, the kitchen window, the only window as with the rest of the apartments, had been replaced by a board of ply wood, rumor had it, the old man had thrown a whiskey bottle through it after his young lad had been taken by social services. 

The rain was cascading down upon the blocks, smashing its way over the boys as it came down in every direction, Robert ignored it, he enjoyed the rain, as they walked, he reached in his jacket with his right hand, feeling the outline of the knife in the hidden area of the jackets lining, he patted it reassuring himself that his plan was solid.  It felt as if reaching the door was taking an eternity, as if fate was giving them all the time they needed to change their minds, alter the plan or chicken out.  Finally they stopped right in front of the door, Robert took a casual look left, then right, then knocked sharply once on the chipped paint, the sound was strange, it didn't sound like wood, it sounded like metal?  Nothing happened, he knocked again, and again came the sound of someone knocking on metal, but the strangest thing was how it lingered, echoing as he waited at the door.

From inside, the sound of breaking glass and falling bottles suddenly erupted.  A mans voice could be heard cursing and complaining.  Robert maintained his calm exterior  even as Connor backed slightly away from the door, Robert could feel him trembling.

"ZHAT YOU BOY?!",

"Good", smiled Robert, "He's still drunk", Robert smiled, at least that was what he thought he was doing, the sneer spread only ever so slightly across his pursed lips was quiet unnerving.

"zhat ma boy!? come ome to iz old man??!!", the door swang open and the most pungent stench of whiskey, vodka and beer met the boys noises like a train hitting a cat.  Connor doubled over retching, Robert, although taken aback just as much as Connor, and wanting very much to throw up, remained, calm, still and patient.


The old man had long dirty, greasy, grey hair, his beard was tangled and littered with bits of old tobacco, food and other things Robert didn't even want to hazard a guess at!  He wore a tatty old black rain coat, torn and ripped white trainers.  His trousers had been patched on both knees, but these were now falling off, and his shirt was once white with blue pin stripes, but now just bore the blood and vomit stains of countless nights drinking and shooting up.  He looked down into Roberts cold hard pale face, the narrow grey eyes, so much older than their owner, burying deep into his.

"I didn bloody call ya?!"

Robert just stared back

"Well?!",

That weird metallic knocking came back,

"WELL?!!", the old man snapped this time, except this time there was something different about his voice, a different pitch, one that had no business being there, because it wasn't the old mans voice,

"IF I AVTTA ASK YOU AGAIN!", two voices, saying the same thing at the same time?!!

"OI!", this time it was a female voice, near, right next to him?

Robert came crashing back to reality with a thud, he was still on the edge of the bed in his cell, looking at the door way, looking at Eclipse in the open doorway, she had his breakfast.

"Oh so there is life!", she scolded.

Robert ignored her, he reached up to feel his hair, he felt as if he had actually just been in a rain storm? But his hair was bone dry, still crisp from the last time he'd gelled it back. Eclipse walked in and deposited his tray of scrambled eggs, toast and coffee on the bed.  Robert waited for her to turn and leave, but she didn't, instead, turning with a hand clapped over her mouth and nose, she said in a muffled voice,

"Oh...my god!, OK, sod what the professor says, you are showering, now!", she raced from the cell and into the corridor calling,

"Hurry up!"

Robert sat and stared at the door for a moment, this was good, not only was he actually going to be able to wash, but from Eclipses "sod the professor" comment, he could be reasonably sure the cell was not bugged.  He stood up, hurried across the cold stone floor, grabbed his socks and hurried out of the door after her,  a second later returning to the cell, necking a great mouthful of warm coffee and back out after her again.

Once outside, Robert turned left to follow Eclipse, but the corridor was empty, he turned right and saw her about to vanish through a single white door at the end of the corridor,

"OK, your really gonna have to work on moving!", she called back to him.

Robert picked up the pace, although playing with Eclipse would be fun, he did not want to ruin this chance to shower.  Robert loved the water, he always had, it was the only thing on Earth that ever provoked any kind of emotional response, a warming sensation by his heart.  He had spent hours as a young boy watching and reading anything he could on the Sea's and Oceans.

Robert passed through the white door, behind Eclipse and found himself in a thin winding corridor, very different from the white hospital tiled one he had just left.  Dimly lit by tiny versions of the "Moon" orbs he had seen in the large rooms , their faint glow only just illuminating the deep sea green carpet, lined with gold, or the dark oak and mahogany wood furnishings and walls, little tables with matching chairs, small cupboards with glass doors holding strange little figures and silver tins. Robert could make out three doors along the corridor, none appeared to be marked as anything special.

"Be quiet!", Eclipse said for no real reason, Robert wasn't making any noise, he couldn't talk and his socks made no noise against the carpet.

"Wolf and Barricade will still be asleep!", she finished,

"Ah," Robert thought to himself,  "These must be their bedrooms.

Eclipse turned sharply at the corner and disappeared, Robert went to hurry after, but lost concentration as he passed a series of paintings.  He stopped and stared at them, they weren't very interesting, one was of a Fisherman, standing on a dock next to his catch and holding a very  large catfish by the tail, presumably so the artist could draw him.  The second was a very tall, well built African standing next to what appeared to be an orchard, the colouration of the sky and ground, Robert guessed it had indeed be painted in Africa, there was a date painted into the corner, 1892.  He moved back to the Fisherman's portrait, the date on this one read 1963.

Robert continued to stare at them, he didn't recognise either man, or the places in their paintings, yet something was holding him there, then in an instant, without quiet understanding why or how, Robert realised that whatever it was, the Artist has seen it to.  Both paintings were meant to look as through they were of the men, but they weren't, Robert could see it, almost as though the Artist was staring over their shoulders at something else.

Eclipse suddenly appeared back at the corner,

"SERIOUSLY??!!",

Robert started moving again, they rounded the corner together and stopped in front of a pair of large, carved wooden doors.  Eclipsed pushed them open, the corridor was bathed in new light, pouring in from the room ahead.  As his vision cleared, Robert took in the new room, it was huge.  The room seemed to be carved out of stone, the walls were obscured buy light sandy coloured, wooden book shelves, like the library, they stretched from floor to ceiling, only this room didn't have a ceiling, past the top of the bookshelves and a small stretch of plain, white washed stoned wall, was a magnificent glass dome.

                                                 Robert walked into the room staring open mouthed up at the dome.  He almost walked straight into a large round table covered in half read books.  The dome was actually a stained glass window, the thousands of shards of black, grey, blue and white glass had been carefully arranged into a magnificent "clouded moon".  The early morning sun shining through, made the moon look almost real.  Robert imagined how much more effective it would be with the moon shining down through it.  He turned his attention back to the room, across from the table, built into a wall was a very large open fire, the contents smoldering, probably from the previous night.  Just in front of the fire place stood two comfortable red leather sofas, they were sitting on a bright electric blue rug, baring three familular letters in gold, L O M, hanging some fifteen feet above the sofas was another huge, floating, "Moon" orb.

Eclipse had also stopped by the table, she however looked rather less than impressed, in fact, she look livid.

"He has GOT to be joking!", she spat. 

                                                                   Robert presumed she meant Woods?  He looked at the table, surrounding it were six more large red leather arm chairs, just like the one in the library.  Eclipse sighed in what Robert considered excessive frustration and then she turn to leave, heading across the room to another single wooden door, not wanting to be hurried along again, Robert took after her, looking back once to examine the stained dome one last time.

                                      As they passed through the door, Robert took a moment to commit what he'd seen so far to memory,

"Turn left from the cell, next corridor are their rooms, follow round to end "dome" room, then..." he moved into the next corridor, this one was as different to the dimly lit living area as it was to the white tiled cell area.  A vast passageway loomed ahead, every inch was intense white marble, decorated here and there with electric blue swirls.  More "Moon" orbs lined the walls, these ones blasting out the brightest light Robert had ever seen, well almost, his thoughts went back to that first night, to Eclipse, he shook his head clear.  Marble columns ran down each side of the passage, although pointless, they certainly added effect.  Robert felt as though he'd stepped into a Roman Baths?!  Three doors lined the passage, two on their left, one on their right, as they passed the first two, directly opposite each other, Robert read the small gold, "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" signs.  The last door approached, its plaque read, "Bathroom".

                      Eclipse pulled the heavy door, painted white and blue to match the corridor, open and held it from springing back into place so Robert could move through,

"OK," she began, "Ten minutes, no more!  The others will be up soon and although the Professor has his own bathroom, I don't want Barricade, but especially Wolf catching you here alright, he's gunning for you enough!  Professor keeps making him promise not to do anything....", she trailed of realising she was rambling at someone she didn't really want to talk to in the first place.  Robert poked his head through the doorway, then quickly had to jump through as Eclipse released the door which swung back, threatening to crush his head.

"I'LL BE BACK IN EXACTLY TEN MINUTES, HURRY UP!!"

                                                    Robert heard Eclipses footsteps trail off down the marble passage.  The bathroom was being lit by another "Moon" orb, this was glowing a pale midnight blue.  In the centre of the room was a bath almost half the size of the swimming pool his school used to take him too every Friday afternoon for lessons.  There were four hot and four cold taps, a set at each end and then a set on either side, meaning you could heat the bath equally.  Like the rest of the room, the bath was lavishly decorated in white marble, the blue paint of the passage replaced with gold.

                        On the wall to his left were six beautifully designed hand sinks, with a joining towel rails, on the right stood four toilet cubicles and 4 urinals.  Then he spotted what he was really after, in the top right corner of the bathroom, cased completely in frosted glass, were the showers!  Robert hurried over, ripping off his filthy gown and black socks, then opened the cubicle door and entered.  No less that fifteen shower heads littered the very top the walls, each with its own tap much further down so the user could reach it.  Robert turned on the first tap wondering if he'd picked the best shower head, when they all came on together, linked together by each tap, the entire cubicle was one giant shower.

                                                      Robert looked about an soon discovered a shelf just inside the doorway, he hadn't noticed it before because it was behind him, it held several different bottles of shower gels and shampoos, conditioners and bars of solid soap.  Robert looked through them quickly and picked one that read "Summer Forrest".  He sniffed it quickly then jumped into the mass of cascading water, it was marvelous, sheer heaven, warm drenching water soaking up every inch of stress and ache from sleeping and sitting all day.  He closed his eyes and poured a generous measure of shower gel over his head, tossing the bottle across the cubicle, he closed his eyes and massaged the gel into his ebony black hair and down his slim toned body, spending along time rubbing it into his shoulders, massaging the knots.

                            Robert was sinking into the wonderful sensation of the hot water, he could feel the steam working its way into every pore across his body and face.  Thats when he felt the tiniest of drafts, a gust a cold, fresh air, he looked up and saw an air vent, he could feel the breeze from the outside through it, though he felt sure he shouldn't be able to.  Dismissing this, enjoying the feeling, he closed his eyes again, trying to single out the coolness of the fresh morning air.

The steam was getting heavier and heavier, obstructing Robert from the view if anyone had been there to watch. 

Roberts mind felt so relaxed, so empty of thought, just the cool breeze and the warm steam, the sensation of the water on his body and the soap dripping off it.

The steam filled the entire cubicle.

Roberts mind was slipping into a dream like state, he knew he had to hurry, that Eclipse would be back any minute expecting him washed, dry and dressed by the door......but the breeze, he wanted it, to be standing in it, then he let his waking mind go and reached out for the breeze with every ounce of want and desire in his body.

Why was she shouting?  He'd only fallen asleep!

Eclipses voice echoed through his head, she was yelling almost at full capacity.

"Better get up i spose", Roberts mind told him.  He opened his eyes.


He looked straight up, leaning over him was Eclipse, looking livid, standing next to her....was a Chef?

                                                Robert sat up bolt right, realising he was still naked, Eclipse holding his gown and socks.  He covered his modesty with his hands and stood up, wishing at once he hadn't, it hadn't registered till he'd stood, but Roberts head was spinning and banging like it was actually going to explode, the chef ran out and caught him under both his arms, his head hurt so much, Robert did even care he was now on display to the whole room, which he managed to focus on long enough to enough to realise with a start, was a kitchen.

             Robert could stand no longer and slipped back down to his knees, Eclipses face turning from rage, to concern, not for him, he knew, but because if something had happened to him she would have to report it to Woods, now he almost wished he was seriously ill!

"Whats wrong with you?, she muttered,

"Slight.....he.....head..ache...!", he attempted sarcasm, but the pain was to intense, the reality of actually being able to speak, and by invitation, lost on him in the moment.  Eclipse bent low and felt his brown, pulling away as soon as she could, wiping her hand against the hem of her blue dress, a little over dramatically for his liking. 

"May I ask?", came a recognisable male voice from somewhere on the other side of the room,

"What is going on in my kitchen?!", Woods stopped beside Eclipse, looking from Robert crouched low and naked on the floor, to the Chef half holding him, to Eclipse standing there looking half discovered and annoyed at the same time holding a dirty grey gown and black socks, Woods was not smiling.

"Eclipse," he began, "Please deliver Robert to my study, then you will meet with me in the "Guest" room and explain your actions, erm, Piero?", he was addressing the stocky, bushy mustached Italian man in Chef whites, who had looked at Woods expecting orders of his own,  "Perhaps a bacon roll?", Piero, lifted Robert back to his feet, passed his arm to Eclipse then skulked away looking very down heartened.

"So!" snapped Eclipse at Woods, "So! HE gets the study while we get sent to our room and treated like children?!!",

"Eclipse, please do not shout at me.  If you insist on acting like a child, I shall treat you as one, now all I am saying..............", his words trailed off as Eclipse "HMPH"ed and rapidly strolled away, Robert hanging off her shoulder, only just able to support his own weight.

                                                    Robert slowly pulled the gown back over his head, he had had to sit on the floor of Woods study to put his socks on, his head feeling clearer but his legs still wobbling.  Eclipse had literally dropped him onto the floor and walked away.  Robert pulled himself into the leather arm chair in front of Woods desk and waited, it was several long minutes before the Doctor appeared in the doorway, he looked like a child trying to hold back great delight.

"Robert, I would like you to tell me, exactly, what happened this morning, you may skip past leaving your cell with Eclipse, she has told me about taking you through the living area and the "Guest" room and about leaving you in the bathing area to shower, now please continue the story", Woods sat back in his chair on the other side of the desk and clasped his hands together in front of his face as if praying, waiting patiently to hear Roberts account of what happened next.

                                              Robert closed his eyes, trying to remember all the details of what happened next.

"Eclipse told me I had ten minutes to shower and be ready to head back to my cell", he started, "I looked around the bathroom quickly, then entered the shower cubicle, turned on the water, then........yes, then I found some shower gel.....then....then....?", his mind fogged, he couldn't remember anything past that point?  "Then i woke up in the kitchen?"

"What is the very last thing you clearly remember?",

"Summer Forrest", Robert replied, Woods smiled.

"Think back hard Robert, are you sure you remember nothing else about those last few moments?" Woods pressed on, Robert thought hard for a good minute before answering,

"No".

"Very well," continued Woods, "Robert, I have decided to allow you to speak freely again, tonight you will dine with the other "Guests" in the "Guest" room, I think you know the one to which i refer.  Eclipse will collect you from your cell at nine pm, now i think you'll find she is waiting for you outside, she will return you to your cell, good day!", and with that Woods picked up his newspaper and disappeared behind it.

 "SO!", Eclipsed spat at him, "What did he take this time? Are you still allowed to pee by yourself? Oh! Thats right, your not allowed to answer!", they walked briskly back down the stairs and out of the "Greeting" area, through the side door, down the tiled corridor and to Roberts cell,

"Actually", Robert began coolie, "I'm having supper with you and the other two "Guests", "  he spat the last word,  "So I'll be expecting you at nine sharp, don't be late!", he marched up to the door way, grasping the inside of the doors window in his right hand, "Oh and by the way, I'm allowed to speak again!",  and he pulled the cell door closed so it slammed in her face.  Eclipse stared at the cell door to dumbfounded to say a word.

 

                                                              Nine O'clock seemed to never want to arrive, Robert was again perched on the side of his bed, patiently waiting for Eclipse to arrive, god help him, he was actually slightly excited? He had never been excited about having to be in the company of others his while life!  Robert had never been comfortable with large crowds, prefering his own company.  Only for business did he ever suffer long term company, he had no interest in the petty problems of others, nor did he wish to tempt fate, no attachment was easier when there was no to become attached to.  Not that attachment was something he had ever come to expect, he had realised, a long time ago, that emotions like affection, kindness, compassion and most of all, love, were quite beyond his reach.

                                 Robert turned his head towards the small window of the cell wall, a full moon just in sight in the dark night sky.  Roberts mind began wondering again, his eyes fixed on the moon, but his thoughts drifted back, to that past time, that past moment when his patience and brilliance were first called into play.

                                            He was back there again, that wet grey day, over fifteen years ago, standing in front of a cracked green front door, staring into the mad eyes of his former "Employer",

"We've run out, we need more supplies", Robert answered the old man,

"I sortz ya out yesser day!", the old man replied drunkenly,

"That was last week", Robert lied dryly, Connor wondered if the old fool was off his face enough to buy this,

"laszt.....?", the old man began, "oh get in alreadzy, for fu.......wipez ya feet!", Robert and Connor ignored his rants entering the Flat.  The stink was worse than the old mans, old food, alcohol and what was probably urine.  Robert watched as Connor nervously moved to the kitchen to try and spy out the boarded up window, Robert was getting annoyed by his nervous behavior, ask Connor to beat seven bells of it out of anyone and he's cool, even enjoys it!  But taking that next step seemed just one to far his "friend", although "minion", was probably a better name.  Connor and Robert had met at school, Connor was renown to be the "hardest" in the year and Robert the brightest, so the arrangement was simple, Robert made plans, Connor kept them simple, they ran their school secretly with fear and threats, even some of their teachers were actually scared of them.

                                Robert waited in the centre of the living room, if you could call passing out drunk and high in this mess living!  He shifted his left arm against the fabric of his jacket again, wanting to feel the knife once more, for assurance.  The old man staggered back into the room, he put a hand on Roberts shoulder and pushed his way past, grunting as he passed.  Robert shrugged the hand away without the old man noticing, how dare he touch him, filthy piece of scum!

                           The old man reached the other side of the room, knocking over enough whiskey bottles to bring Connor back from the kitchen to see what was happening.  The old man was pulling tins and jars off the mantle above the old gas fire that didn't work anymore, they went through this routine every time, first he wouldn't be able to find his stash, then he'd turn on Robert or Connor blaming them for stealing his stuff, thats when he attempted to attack one of them, but the boys were fit and strong, the old man had almost no strength of body or mind left, which ever he went for would push him back, usually resulting in him falling over, then he'd remember where he had hidden his gear, sometimes, sometimes he would start launching tins and bottles at them till they left, only returning later when were sure he had found his stuff again.

"Come on!", Robert thought to himself, loosing patience with the wait,  "just turn around and go for one of us!".  He would wait until the moment one of them had to force the old man off them, when he fell, or his back was turned, he'd make his move on the old man, driving the long, sharp kitchen knife through the fools spine and heart, death would be certain.  Robert reached in to feel the knife again,  but Connor, on the edge and loosing all nerve let out,

"Now Rob, do it now!",

The old man turned back, he saw Roberts hand gripping something inside the lining of his jacket, the old man flung himself forward anticipating the attack, Robert put both hands out in front of himself, pushing back against his would-be victim.  Connor tried to move forwards, but uncertainty in what he was doing was messing with his heas, he lost concentration and slipped on a bottle laying on its side, falling over into the coffee table and smashing through its dirty glass top.

                          Robert managed to grip the old mans chest and pushed with all the force he could muster, trying to force the old man off his feet, he went but punched out, catching Robert in the eye, Robert fell back to, landing on the sofa covered in beer cans and heroine wraps.  In fear of landing on a used needle more than anything else, Robert lept back up and then turned back towards where the old man had fallen, he was already almost on his feet again and had grabbed a large vodka bottle from the floor.  The old man raised it above his head, ready to bring it down on the boys head when Robert reacted with lightning speed, reaching into his jacket lining, grabbing the knife and in one flash of steel, grabbed the blade right into the soft tissue directly in front of the old mans heart.

                                                 Robert let go of the knife and watched as the old man just stood there, swaying slightly, a look of shock and horror on his face, his mouth contorted open at a strange angle, and then, he fell backwards, through the wooden remains of the coffee table, narrowly missing Connor.  Dead.

                            For several minutes the boys just looked at the body, Connor holding the back of his head, Robert still standing in front of the sofa.  Connor was shaking like a leaf, every single inch of him trembling, Robert looked completely unaffected. 

"Wha.....wha....?", Connor tried to ask a question,

"We stick to the plan",  Robert replied, "we take the body through to bedroom onto the small balcony, throw it over and wait till tonight, then we take it through the back alley and down to the duck pond park, there we weigh him and dump him in the mud, make sure he sinks deep, it will be a very long time before anyone finds him.", Robert then realised what Connor was doing,

"Are you cut?" he asked hurriedly,  "you know we can't leave any DNA, are you cut?!",

"Nah man, just banged my head", Connor replied standing,

"Be sure!", Robert snapped back, a little more flustered than Connor had ever heard him,

"Nah I told ya, I'm fine!",

                                                              Together, the boys lifted the lifeless corpse from the smashed table and carried him through the bedroom, which was actually worse than the living room, only this room had the added stench of seamen along with alcohol and stale smoke.  Robert pulled open the balconies French window and stepped out, leaving Connor holding the old mans body and looking very uneasy about it, after quickly checking all the other balconies were clear, people on the estate learning along time ago that exploring strange noises brought nothing but trouble, he found the whole row empty.

"OK, now!", Robert whispered

                                                    They lifted the body so the rail met the old mans waist,his torso falling over the rail, just in case anyone popped out at that moment, it would appear the boys were holding  him while the old man vomited over the side.  When Robert was completely convinced they were not being spied on, they tipped the body over the edge and it fell and silently landed in a think bush of nettles and weeds, so over grown the cushioned the corpse perfectly.  On their way back out, Robert carefully removed two items with disturbing to much, he wanted no trace of their visit, the broken coffee table not being part of his plan, completely removing it would arouse notice, he would have to hope people who came looking would assume the old fool fell through it drunk.  The first item Robert collected was the old mans phone book, the one thing he always made sure he had to hand for borrowing money and gear, the second, the entire stash he already knew the old man had hidden in the airing cupboard the previous day.

                        Robert and Connor did return that night, they took the body, dragging him by the feet the mere hundred yards to the parks entrance.  Vandals had smashed all the street  lights years back, no one from the council every came to repair anything, so the park had become a safe haven for dealers, muggers and rapists.  Tonight, the park would be empty, the town council holding the fun fair in another park about half a mile away, everyone would be there, Police, nice normal people and the predators.

                                                               The pond was once a lush area of water life and vegetation, now it was little more than a giant mud pool, trolly's, bikes and other assorted pieces of rubbish had been thrown in years ago, but now had sunk into the mud, forever.  Robert let the body go, Connor followed suit, it hit the grass bank and rolled down the small but steep slope to the mus edge, the second it came into contact with the filth, it began sinking, until, at last as far as Connor was concerned, the last strands of hair disappeared below the mud, Robert watched, standing just behind Connor, the small sneer back, the evil attempt at a smile, smiling at his future.

           Something hard, cold and soft hit him in the face, bringing him back the cell in a flash, Eclipse was standing in the doorway of his cell, she said nothing.  Robert looked down at whatever it was that had hit him, he had never been so thrilled to see anything in his life, a white T-Shirt and ripped blue jeans.  He looked back at Eclipse, she snorted quietly, rolled her eyes, then turned and began to head back down the corridor, the way they had gone that morning.  Robert stood up, threw off the dirty grey gown he had grown to hate, and pulled on the blue jeans......they were soaking wet, so was the T-Shirt.

                                          Having decided he'd rather be cold and wet for an hour or so than actually put the gown back on, Robert dressed quickly then left the cell, Eclipse was no where to be seen, she must have gone on without him.  Robert thought for a moment, he thought about fleeing the other way, back to the "greeting" room perhaps, if it was a greeting room then surely it followed there must be a entrance and exit nearby.  No, no he hadn't learned nearly enough about the "Hospital" to try an escape, plus he had no idea what to expect even if he made it outside, he could be at sea for all he knew.

                                    Robert turned right, the same way they had gone that morning and began trudging after Eclipse, his jeans dripping water by the bucket load as he walked.  Robert passed through the single white door at the end of the tiled cell area, moved swiftly down and round the oak corridor, momentarily pausing once again to look at the paintings from that morning, something was different, he knew it, he couldn't tell what, but something in the paintings had changed, not the people, not the house in Africa or the boat in the fisherman's picture, but there was, none the less, something different about them?

                                                            Robert carried on, not wanting to get caught alone wondering the "Hospital", he reached the large wooden double doors, gripped one of the handles and pushed it open, stepping through, he was suddenly face to face with Eclipse, Wolf and Barricade, they did not look pleased to see him.

                                                        Robert walked across the room, ignoring their stares, towards the roaring fire, he sat down just inside the fire place, warming his sodden clothes.  He could feel the other three behind him, watching, one them sucked their gums at him in distaste, one of the boys, Wolf probably, he heard a loud scrambling from behind, but keeping his cool nerve, and remembering what Eclipse had said in the bathroom about them being told to leave him alone, he did not turn.

"So, when do we eat?2, he asked coolie without turning.

                                   Someone pulled out one of the large leather chairs from the table, he heard its feet clunk, then the sound of plates moving, hunger taking over, Robert allowed himself to turn round and face the little group, only one of them was gone, Wolf?  Robert looked around the room and eventually located the younger man, he was now sitting on the top of one of the book shelves, his back resting on the white washed stone wall leading up to the dome, he was holding a plate in his lap, a jacket potato, salad and cold meat, he was stabbing the potato with his fork, trying to look menacing,  Robert found it rather amusing.

                                   He moved over to the large round table that earlier had been covered in books and saw it was now laden with white and gold china plates, crystal and gold rimmed glass wear and gold cutlery, every single piece was either branded or painted with the letters L O M. 

"What does this stand for?", Robert finally managed to ask, his experience in the library and the shower/kitchen incident had driven the matter right from his mind during his two meetings with Woods, no one answered. no one even looked at him.

"I said, What does L O M stand for?", a piece of sliced cucumber flew down from the book shop and stuck to his cheek, Robert pealed it off and threw it away on without even looking at Wolf, despite Barricade and Eclipses joint sniggering.

                   Robert gave up and sat down, he helped himself to a potato and some of the meat and salad, he picked up his knife and fork, then looked over the table at the other two.  Barricade, who's backside and waist were two big even for the huge red leather arm chairs, had to balance himself on each arm, forcing their weight load to the max, unlike the very different picture in the next chair, Eclipse was sitting across the arms, her tiny bottom hardly reaching the cushion, she had her plate in her lap.  Her legs were stretched out, her feet crossed over and resting comfortably on Barricades shoulder, Robert wasn't sure the big guy could even feel her, Eclipse looked so tiny next to the hulk figure. So small and fragile.....he mentally shook himself out of it.

                                                   They had been eating for about ten minutes before Wolf finally broke the silence,

"So as he told ya why ya here yet?", Robert looked up, assuming it was he Wolf was asking,

"Who Woods?, No, just that I'm a prisoner and have no rights what so ever",  Robert replied,

"Ah, the old bug speech huh?!", Wolf laughed, "Yeah we all got that, usually swaps and changes what to take away from us though!", Wold went back to his meal,

"What do you mean?", Robert asked,

"Well," Wolf continued with a mouth full of dry bread, "You he made stop talking, right? always different with each of us!",

"So what did he do to you?", Wolf looked a little offended by question, Eclipse giggled,

"Come on Wolf, you started this!",

Wolf shifted himself, hiding his face from the rest by bending his right knee upwards as he crouched on the book shelf, he mumbled something,

"Huh??!!" mocked Eclipse, "We can't hear you dog breath!", she seemed to enjoy winding him up,

"I said!" he almost yelled back at her, "Hot head! That he made me shave my head! OK!", he ran a hand through his thick brown hair, as if checking it was still there.  Eclipse continued to giggle,

"Wolf loves his hair", she explained, "spends half the morning combing it!", she said, "Guess the Professor figured fear of loosing it again would keep you in order!"

                                 As Eclipse and Wolf kept throwing insults and wind ups at each other, Robert took a moment to take in the hulks face, he had only ever seen Barricade in shadow, now in the light, Robert could only wonder what had happened to him?  Barricades entire face was covered in scars, some very clearly knife wounds, others impact scars, two appeared to be the impact marks left by bullets, like shooting a heavy piece of iron, the bullet bounces off, but leave a massive impact imprint on the metal, but it couldn't be, the young mans skin would have to be as hard as iron or steel to stop a bullet.

                                     Barricade noticed Robert staring, he looked into the cold grey eyes with his own, deep green eyes.  Robert stared back, he almost felt as though they were communicating in some way.  Barricade looked away again, returning to his meal, Robert kept watching, the brute had originally struck him as stupid to the point of brain damage, the occasional grunt of laughter or one word response to questions thrown at him, usually by Wolf and usually aimed at getting Barricade to back him up while insulting Eclipse.  Wolf gave in and returned his attention back to Robert,

"So what did you say when the Professor told you how long you've been here?", Eclipse suddenly went white, all trace of humor gone from her face, she desperately tried to motion Wolf to shut up, but it was to late,

"I'm sorry?", replied Robert,  how long he had been there?  He knew how long he'd been there, five days including that day,

"Oh nothing", Wolf was a terrible liar, "Just me being thick mate, yeah!", he tried to feint laughter, it wasn't convincing anyone.

"No no go on", Robert said, "like Eclipse said, you started this, what do you mean, how long I've been here, I know how long I've been here, five days, including today, first day you got Big Daddy here to tuck me in after i threatened Eclipse", reminding of this seemed to anger Wolf, Eclipse on the other hand gave no indication of caring about the past event, but livid on discovering the other piece or news,

"You did WHAT?!", she yelled, Robert continued, talking over her,

"Second day I was in the Library, you know, when one of you decided to collect that book and just leave me collapsed on the floor!",

Wolf and Eclipse looked at each other and both mouthed the question "Book?", Barricade just shrugged his massive  shoulders, Robert was still going,

"Third and forth day I saw no one but Eclipse when she brought food and today, well here we are, five days!",

Wolf again faked a laugh, "yeah, oh yeah, course!". 

                                   Robert stood up, moved away from his chair and to the side of table,

"Look if you know different you'd bet......." he was cut off as Wolf lept down from the bookshelf in one single effortless bound and landed right in front of him, he slammed one of his hands, bigger and heavier than Roberts, onto the table top, knocking over glasses and a bottle cola they'd been drinking,

"Look man, I don't like you, K? None of us want you here, none of us need you here! We gotta play nice cos the Prof says to, but make no mistake mate, we KNOW what you are, if not WHO, we know you sell drugs, we know you hurt people, we know you got real rich doin it to, but that worlds gone now, MATE, and trust me when I say, you won't be around any longer than the last one!",

                                                         Wolfs tone was deep and angry, threatening to attack any second, Robert completely ignored his tone and asked the question most people, in that situation, would not have had the guts to ask,

"Who's the last one?", he looked at Eclipse, "you said something like that once, you said something about a "he"?",

Eclipse gave Wolf the dirtiest look imaginable then stormed from the "Guest" room back towards the living quarters,  Wolf smashed his way past Robert going after her, calling,

"El! ....El, wait will ya, oh come on!", the door slammed closed as his voice was lost, Robert turned to look at Barricade, the giant just stood there staring at the door his friends had just left through.

"Guess its just you and me then", Robert said, but as he turned, he saw Barricade walking towards the other end of the room and away through the door towards the "Bathing" area.  Robert now stood alone in the room, he thought for a moment about remaining there, wondering if anyone would notice if he just spent one night on one of those huge comfy leather sofas, but remembering Wolfs hair story, began making his way back to the cell area, Woods was obviously a maniac, but now he really did need to know more about why he was there at all and, what Wolf had meant about how long?

 

The End

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