Skulk of Foxes – Helen Harper

It was the beeping that told me I wasn’t dead. Unless hell had a special section set aside where you were driven mad by the incessant sound of human technology. It was unlikely. I groaned and tried to turn onto my side to get away from the sound, which was starting to feel like it was reverberating around my skull. As soon as I shifted, however, there was a clink of metal upon metal and I realised I couldn’t move. I opened my eyes and glanced down. Gasbudlikins. I was in a hospital bed – and, not only that, I was cuffed to it so I couldn’t escape. If it weren’t for the pervasive smell of antiseptic, it would have been kinky. ‘Welcome back to the land of the living.’ I glanced to my left, spotting the white-coated doctor who wasn’t quite able to meet my eyes. ‘What…’ I croaked. ‘What happened?’ ‘You pulled out a gun in the city centre and tried to use it,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t a wise action on your part. If anything, I’d say it was quite mad.

’ Well, I thought, wishing I didn’t hurt quite so much, I was the Madhatter. ‘You’re healing remarkably quickly. The police shot you. The bullet missed your heart by centimetres. All the same, the shock alone would have killed a normal person. You are some sort of medical miracle. You should be glad.’ I was beyond thrilled. I looked around. ‘Where are my clothes?’ And, more to the point, where was the sphere? The magical one created by a dragon that had the potential to destroy this world? It had been in my possession just before the armed police made their move.

If they hadn’t impounded everything I owned for forensics and further investigation then all this had been for nought. ‘My belongings?’ ‘We had to cut you out of your clothes. But we’ll rustle up something else for you to wear before you leave. As for your belongings, the police have them. I doubt you’ll get them back any time soon.’ I breathed out. Praise be. It had worked. I’d been out of options. Confronted by Rubus and his minions, suicide by cop had seemed to be the only way to keep the destructive magic out of his hands.

Maybe it wasn’t my finest hour but it had served its purpose and the sphere was safe – for now. All I had to do was get the police to arrest me properly and throw me in jail, and the sphere would be locked away as evidence for good along with me. Then I froze. ‘Wait a minute!’ I half screeched, as the doctor’s words finally filtered through my fogged brain. ‘You cut me out of my clothes? Even my sexy-arse leather trousers?’ He nodded. ‘Yes.’ ‘And my gorgeous leather corset?’ ‘Yes.’ I hissed in annoyance. Screw the damn dragon-created, apocalypse-inducing, magical sphere. I’d looked bloody good in that outfit.

The doctor looked unconcerned at my fashion-related loss. He pursed his lips slightly before turning to the IV drip by my side and fiddling with it. I sighed. It was lucky I looked fabulous in just about everything I wore. It would be hard but I’d get over it. With time. ‘So I’m going to be alright?’ I asked. ‘It appears that way,’ he said. He glanced at the door. ‘Your barrister is here to see you.

Are you feeling well enough to talk to him?’ There was a lingering cloud of confusion misting my mind but I nodded anyway. When the doctor exited and Morgan appeared in his place, I almost cried. ‘You’re a bloody idiot, Madrona,’ Morgan said, striding over to my bedside and grabbing my hand. ‘Yeah,’ I sniffed. ‘And it seems like I’ve got a bartender as a lawyer, too.’ He smiled slightly, although it didn’t reach his eyes. ‘They are only going to keep you here until you’re well enough to be moved to prison. You’re being investigated on suspicion of murder, as well as discharging a firearm illegally.’ His face darkened. ‘An anonymous source sent them the CCTV clip of you with Charrie the Bogle.

’ I bit my lip. ‘You mean,’ I whispered, ‘the CCTV clip of me cutting off Charrie’s head. I am a murderer, Morgan. I deserve this.’ He shook his head. ‘We still don’t know what really happened between the two of you. Not to mention the fact that there’s no body. Finn and his brothers ensured that. We’ll find out what happened and get you out.’ ‘The sphere…’ ‘The police have it.

It’s safe for now.’ I swallowed. ‘And Rubus? Your evil brother who’s seeking to destroy the world? What happened to him?’ ‘He was questioned and let go. We all were. I’ve not seen him since.’ Morgan’s fingers tightened round mine. ‘He swore blind the gun had nothing to do with him and he can be a convincing bastard when he wants to be. The only good thing is that he’ll still be recovering from the effects of the rowan poisoning. I was an idiot for not realising what he’d done sooner.’ I sighed.

‘It was me who gave him the idea. All this is my fault. If I’d not told him that rowan poisoning enabled me to maintain a glamour for hours rather than minutes, he wouldn’t have known. He couldn’t have pretended to be Mendax the damned dragon. We wouldn’t have almost handed the stupid sphere over to him.’ ‘If it wasn’t for you,’ Morgan said, ‘this demesne would already have been destroyed. You’re a hero.’ Well, there was that. ‘I knew that part all along.’ I half smiled.

‘I’m truly wondrous.’ Morgan held my gaze. ‘One day you’ll realise that’s actually true.’ He leaned over and brushed my lips with his. ‘The police want to question you. We’ll need to work out what you’re going to say.’ I tried to shrug, although it was remarkably awkward from the position I was in. ‘I know what I’m going to say,’ I said. I attempted a weak grin. Morgan raised a questioning eyebrow.

‘I’ve got amnesia,’ I whispered to him. ‘I can’t remember a gasbudlikin thing.’ ‘I’m not sure that’s much of a defence.’ His expression was grim. ‘We can’t afford for you to be locked up for a quarter of a century for murder.’ ‘We?’ I enquired. ‘Or you?’ His eyes held mine. ‘I think you already know the answer to that.’ I ignored the momentary ripple of delight in the pit of my stomach and lowered my voice. ‘But I deserve to be locked up, Morgan.

I did decapitate that bogle. The video proves it. And more to the point,’ I added, ‘if I’m locked up then so is the sphere.’ I’d barely finished speaking when there was a sharp knock at the door. Whoever was outside didn’t bother to wait to be granted access, however, so the knock was a wasted effort. Morgan growled at the sight of the sharp-suited couple holding up their badges. Apparently he and they were already acquainted. ‘I told you,’ he said, with a protective air that made my toes curl in delight, ‘I require some time alone with my client first. She’s only just woken up and she’s in a position of extraordinary vulnerability. This is not the place for an interrogation.

’ ‘Perhaps,’ the woman said, ‘she should have thought of that before threatening the city of Manchester.’ Morgan’s face darkened. ‘All she did was fire a gun into the air.’ ‘An illegal gun.’ He held his ground. ‘It didn’t belong to her. She took it from her assailant. It was selfdefence.’ ‘All the more reason for us to talk to her,’ the woman’s partner replied calmly. ‘We need to keep her safe.

’ ‘By handcuffing her to a hospital bed?’ ‘It’s just procedure. Besides, there’s also the question of the video evidence we’ve received. And her confession at the crime scene in front of the library. She said that she had already killed.’ ‘Video evidence that could easily have been doctored,’ Morgan returned. ‘And she was under great duress when she said that.’ The three of them were putting on quite a show. Under any other circumstances, I’d probably have been rather entertained. I tried to scoot upwards to make myself more comfortable but the authorities obviously weren’t taking any chances. The handcuffs were far too tight and all I could manage was to shift up an inch or two on the pillow.

I shook my head from side to side in a bid to look like the glamorous sex kitten I knew I was, adorably mussed-up after a long sleep, instead of pale, chained up and with bed hair. Neither of the police officers appeared impressed. I suspected they were simply jealous. ‘In any case,’ the policeman said, ‘you have no right to be here.’ I blinked. ‘I can leave?’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Not you.’ He jerked his chin at Morgan. ‘Him. We have searched and found no one on the Barristers’ Register to match you.

You’re not a lawyer. Therefore,’ the officer smiled unpleasantly, ‘you have to go.’ ‘She is entitled to legal representation!’ ‘Then go and find some.’ Morgan opened his mouth to argue some more. It was rather heartening given that, not all that long ago, he’d have quite happily allowed the police to lock me away forever. All the same, I interrupted him before he could begin his tirade. It was for his own good; he’d only feel bereft and useless when I talked my way into a life sentence without his help. ‘It’s fine, Morgan,’ I said softly. ‘I’ll deal with this. I’ll answer their questions.

You stay focused on Rubus and what he’s planning.’ Neither police officer would have made a great poker player. Their stoic expressions cracked when I mentioned Rubus’s name. Aha. I smiled serenely. I was an uber villain; I deserved to be locked away. But if I could bring Rubus down with me, you could bet my curvy, gorgeous arse that I’d do it. After Morgan reluctantly departed and the door closed firmly behind him, I fixed my attention on the police. ‘He did have a point,’ I said. I jiggled the handcuffs.

‘I have no lawyer and I’m completely vulnerable and helpless. This is not a good place for an interrogation.’ ‘We’re not here to interrogate you,’ the policewoman told me. ‘We’re just here to find out what happened. You’re very welcome to get legal advice before we proceed but, honestly, we’re on your side. This is merely an exploratory chat.’ ‘Exploratory? Then you’re saying you’re like Christopher Columbus.’ She appeared slightly discomfited. ‘Not exactly but…’ ‘Because he was an incompetent tyrant.’ I raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ve not had dealings with the police in the past but I’d rather hoped for better than that.’ Rather than unbalancing my pair of PC Plods, they both seemed to brighten. Uh-oh. Maybe I did have direct experience with the arm of the law. It was entirely possible. Thanks to my ongoing amnesia, I couldn’t remember. ‘I can assure you that we are not tyrants.’ The policeman smiled as if he were my brand new best friend. That could not be a good thing. ‘Let’s start over, shall we? I’m Detective Inspector Mulroney and this is Detective Constable Jones.

’ The policewoman smiled thinly. ‘Our records indicate that you are Madrona Hatter.’ I beamed. I couldn’t help myself. ‘Madrona Hatter? That’s awesome.’ Then I realised what I’d said. ‘What I mean is, yes.’ I coughed. ‘I am Madrona Hatter.’ ‘Where are you from, Madrona?’ Mulroney’s expression was friendly enough but there was something about his tone of voice that gave me pause.

‘Er … is that relevant?’ ‘You are not registered as a British citizen. Neither is there any information at border control about which country you arrived from. Are you here illegally?’ I stared at him. Before I could answer, DC Jones stepped in to tag-team him. ‘You’ve been in trouble before now, Madrona. Anti-social behaviour…’ I spluttered. ‘I’m a very social person! Everyone who meets me loves me!’ That was a blatant lie. Oh well. She wasn’t to know that. ‘Drunk and disorderly…’ ‘Being drunk is a crime? Come on!’ ‘Public disorder…’ I shook my head.

‘You’ve got the wrong person. Ordering the public around is very important to me.’ Jones was not amused. ‘That is not what public disorder refers to. There is a litany of petty crimes attached to your name but we haven’t been able to follow up any of them because you’re an illegal immigrant who thinks she’s above the law. Isn’t that correct?’ I considered possible responses. Really, there was only one way to go: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. ‘I thought I was above the law for a few days,’ I agreed. ‘That’s because I thought I was a superhero. It’s not true, though.

I’ve got amnesia so I don’t remember my background or where I came from. However, I have it on good authority that I’m really a faery. I come from a place called Mag Mell and I’ve got special magical powers. So I probably am here illegally but, you see, I can’t leave. Mag Mell is closed off. No faeries can return. Like it or not, I’m stuck here.’ I tried to shrug but it wasn’t easy, given my supine position. ‘I’d go home if I could.’ Mulroney didn’t blink.

Maybe he was actually a lizard rather than a man. Frankly, these days nothing would be surprise me. ‘You’re telling us that you have amnesia?’ he said. ‘Yes.’ ‘And that you’re a faery?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But you’re trapped here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you have magical powers?’ I beamed. ‘Now you’re getting it!’ He leaned down. ‘Tell me, Madrona. Do these magical powers extend to the ability to chop off someone’s head? Because we have evidence that’s what you did.

’ ‘I don’t remember anything about that.’ ‘Because you’ve got amnesia.’ ‘Yes!’ Mulroney shook his head sadly. ‘I thought you were going to help us, Madrona. Instead, you’re just being obstructive. As soon as the doctors agree that you’re well enough to be released, which I believe will be very soon, you will be arrested on suspicion of murder and serious public affray. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’ I did my best to look crestfallen but it wasn’t easy.

This was what I wanted. Being locked up in prison meant that the sphere would also be locked up in an evidence room somewhere so that Rubus couldn’t get his grubby hands on it. The world was lucky that I was such a self-sacrificing person. I just hoped that prison food was going to be palatable. I’d keep my fingers crossed for kebabs.


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