Read the previous chapter, Chapter 8, here first.
Chapter 9 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Jamie pulled up to the hospice and sat for a moment on the cooling bike. She was late for her evening visit and she normally liked to be there for dinner time, but Blake had kept her longer than expected. His visions still disturbed her, the horror of Mengele but also his accurate perception of her dancing. She had doubted him and in doing so she had left herself open. She mentally kicked herself for being so careless with her privacy, for she had seen in his eyes a flash of pity that she resented. Despite that, she felt drawn to him, this haunted man who seemed so much older than he looked. Blake’s blue eyes had the layered depth of a forest pool in an ancient wood that hid long-forgotten secrets, where the sun could not penetrate the thick canopy of twisted branches. She thought of the old scars on his hands, revealed when he removed the gloves, evidence of some kind of torture years ago. Yet he had the nonchalance of the truly beautiful, his face handsome and a body that he took for granted yet still turned heads in the street.
Getting off the bike, Jamie pushed all thoughts of Blake and the case aside and focused on her time with Polly. Being fully present was something that she tried to practice on a daily basis and it helped her separate the two halves of her life. She pushed open the gate. 98, she counted and sent up her prayer for another day. A flicker of concern nagged at the edge of her mind. Was she becoming obsessive-compulsive about her behavior? Did she really believe that her tiny actions could keep Polly away from the beckoning arms of death for much longer?
She walked through the hospice, greeting the Duty Nurse, who she recognized but didn’t normally chat with. She was grateful that Rachel wasn’t on duty tonight, because she didn’t want to have any kind of serious conversation right now. Jamie knew she couldn’t face that reality just yet and Rachel forced her towards a place she didn’t want to go.
Pushing open the door to Polly’s room, she found her daughter lying with eyes closed, her face relaxed in sleep or perhaps sedation. After the attack this morning, Jamie knew that the nurses would try to alleviate her suffering as much as possible and keep her comfortable. She bent to kiss Polly’s hair gently and sat down next to the bed, watching her daughter’s chest rise and fall under the covers. Jamie felt a rush of gratitude that she was still alive, that they had another moment together. She felt tears prick her eyes and she grasped Polly’s hand softly, leaning forward to put her head on the bed covers as she concentrated on sending waves of strength to her daughter. In her practical world, in the daylight, Detective Jamie Brooke would have little patience for woo-woo energy work, but in the privacy of the night, she was just a mother doing anything she could for the girl she cherished.
After a moment, she felt a flutter in Polly’s fingertips and a gentle pressure. Jamie sat up and Polly’s eyes were open. The brown that had been so vibrant this morning was now dark and forbidding, a depth of mahogany that Jamie knew she couldn’t penetrate.
“Hey Pol,” she said softly. “How you feeling?” Polly blinked slowly and then mouthed, ‘Bad’. Jamie noticed a tension around her mouth and her forehead was creased.
“Do you want me to up the pain relief?” she asked, reaching for the pump.
Polly barely shook her head, but it was still a negative and Jamie was grateful. The drugs brought unconsciousness and selfishly, she wanted this moment of lucidity together.
‘You?’ Polly mouthed.
Jamie tried to smile. “Oh you know, just another day in the big smoke. Chasing bad guys. Bringing justice to the city.” She paused. “Actually Pol, you’d have found it interesting, lots of medical research and strange, exotic specimens. I know you love all those gory details.” Her voice trailed off as Polly’s eyes drifted closed. “Do you need to sleep, my darling?” she whispered. “It’s OK, you know I love you. Sleep now.”
Polly opened her eyes again, and Jamie was transfixed by the naked truth in their depths. Her daughter was pulling away and Jamie felt a stab of panic in her chest at the realization that time was running out. ‘Dance for me tonight, Mum,’ Polly mouthed. ‘Tell me tomorrow.’ Jamie took a deep breath and nodded. The last thing she wanted tonight was to dance but if she couldn’t talk with Polly, then perhaps it would be the escape she needed.
Jamie stepped into the Zero Hour milonga, one of the best on the London tango scene. Her silver dress was faded in the daylight but in this darkened space it sparkled, a contrast to the long, black hair lying loose about her shoulders. She sat down briefly and changed into her four inch heels, completing the shift from day to night. Jamie transformed for tango, even using a different name if people asked, calling herself Christina. This was a part of herself that she wanted to keep separate, for the milonga was a shifting web of complication, not fitting her police persona. In her job, she was focused and driven but when she stepped onto the dance floor, Jamie embodied the spirit of Argentine tango. Some called it the vertical expression of a horizontal desire, vicarious pleasure, an obsession that allowed the dancer to leave behind the day’s trouble and dwell in the moment.
Close embrace did not presume any further intimacy and Jamie preferred it that way. She could be held, swept through the music and then be released back into the world. It was physical experience without real engagement, and there was an etiquette to tango that centered around respect. It allowed Jamie to feel safe dancing with a string of men each time. Respect for the partner, for the dance and the culture permeated the room, albeit with an undercurrent of sexual tension that only served to heighten the pleasures of restraint.
The music began to wash the stress of the day away and, as Jamie watched the couples, she caught a glimpse of Sebastian through the crowd, handsome with his olive skin and dark eyes. He favored close embrace, his body square to his dancing partner as he swept her around the room. Jamie watched his sure steps, knowing that the dominance of the male partner was part of why she could lose herself in tango. Her roles as parent and police officer meant she had to assume authority, make decisions that affected lives and take responsibility. The beauty of tango was that she could give that up, relinquish control and just follow.
Jamie waited out the tanda, a set of songs, declining several partners because she wanted Sebastian tonight. It was selfish to wait for the best dancer in the room, but her body thrilled to be next to his and she craved his peppery scent. It was a chemical attraction but they had never even had a proper conversation or met outside the milonga. The asking, and then a thank you at the end of the dance was their only exchange of words, and that was all Jamie wanted. She felt that she would break right now if anyone asked any more of her than to move with the music and she needed to sublimate her pain.
There was an emotional darkness to tango, a broken spirit inside each of the dancers. She could see it in the older couples clutching onto one other, loss bleeding from their every step. Jamie looked away, not wanting to recognize her own future in their gait. Younger dancers had different problems, but the heaviness of the world seemed to anchor their feet, giving them gravitas, a center around which to spin. The words of the Argentinian poet Borges echoed in her mind, that tango converted outrage into music. She was outraged at how her daughter was being taken from her, angry at yet another murder and crazy mad at her own impotence to stop injustice. In tango, she could rise above those turbulent emotions and just feel. But to be swept away, she needed to dance with the best.
She kept her eyes on Sebastian and as he said his thanks to his last partner, Jamie stood and walked to the side of the dance floor near him. It was brazen to look at him in this way but she felt on the edge of mania and needed the steel cage of his embrace to root her to the earth again. He caught her eye, his look a question she had already answered. He walked to her, ignoring the others who wanted him, and in the cortina, the break between the tandas, he held out his arms.
As he drew her close, Jamie felt suddenly able to exhale, as if his physical strength gave her the support she so desperately needed. The music began and they moved, bodies becoming one, pressed close against each other as she followed his lead. As they swirled, Jamie let anger and grief move through her body, willing it through her feet and into the floor, letting it charge the air between them. She breathed in the space between steps as Sebastian spun her and then held her close, swaying as intensity deepened, the music a lament for dying dreams.