Leaving somewhere he had felt so at home had been the hardest decision he had ever had to make. He had left the people he felt most comfortable with, and who accepted him for what he was. But maybe it was time to move on even though it felt as if he was just starting all over again. He had already found people who would accept him, perhaps there were more out there.
"Your Guv'nor around?" Hyper asked as he approached the guy on duty in the Watch Room of his new station.
"She's upstairs," the guy muttered, not really acknowledging Hyper.
"She?" Hyper questioned.
"Yeah," the guy looked up from his newspaper this time. "Oh, you're the new guy?"
"Not that new," Hyper tried to joke, but could see it was lost on the guy. "Never mind."
"I'll take you up," the guy folded his newspaper. "I'm Ged by the way."
"Rob… or Hyper," Hyper grinned. "It seems to have stuck!"
Ged didn't strike Hyper as being a very talkative person. Normally when a new bloke arrived at the station, he was quizzed as if he was taking part in a game show.
"Where are the rest of the Watch?" Hyper asked, noticing that the station resembled an abandoned ship as Ged took him upstairs to the boss's office.
"Shout," Ged replied, as if it was blindingly obvious. "Shed fire."
"Oh, right, course."
They arrived at the office. Ged knocked on the door.
"Yeah?" came the female voice from inside.
Ged pushed the door open and took a small step over the threshold of the office, Hyper moved in to look over Ged's shoulder. The Station Officer was sat at the computer looking over some word-processed report. Her blonde hair had been pulled back into a bun, the collar of her white shirt was open. A jacket hung on the back of the chair, which she now leaned back in, glad of the distraction.
"New bloke," Ged moved aside to let Hyper enter the office.
"Ah," the Station Officer looked at Hyper. "Glad you could make it."
"I uh… got lost…" Hyper tried to apologise for his lateness.
But the SO was smiling. "Get a map," she suggested.
"I will ma'am," Hyper promised.
"It's 'Guv'" she corrected him. "Ma'am makes me sound like I'm the Queen or something! Not that I would mind that…" she trailed off and glanced at Ged. "Aren't you supposed to be in the Watch Room Firefighter Riley?"
"Um… yeah, just going," Ged made a rather hasty retreat from the office.
"And close the door!" the SO yelled after him.
He did so.
She motioned for Hyper to sit in one of the chairs opposite the desk as she moved from the computer workstation to take up the chair behind the desk.
"Lilah Warren," she finally introduced herself.
They shook hands.
"What brings you out here then?" she inquired.
Hyper shrugged. "Just fancied a change."
She smiled again. "Blackwall yeah?"
"Yeah. How did…?" he frowned.
"Hey, I'm a Station Officer, I know everything! As it happens, I know John Coleman," she explained. "Taught me everything there is to know about firefighting. How is he these days?"
"He's retired now," Hyper explained. "Reckoned he wanted some peace and quiet!"
Lilah smiled again. "I'm sure he did! Anyway, I'm afraid there isn't much for you to do at the moment, one of our appliances is off the run."
"Oh, why's that?"
"Staffing. I lost my LF a couple of weeks ago."
"That was careless, Guv!"
She saw his humour. "Hopefully you're not going to turn out to be a jerk like he was. Anyway, I'll get Val to show you round the station, the rest of them have gone on a shout."
It wasn't much of an induction, but he didn't know what he had been expecting. Val turned out to be a tall black guy, who was much chattier that Ged had been.
"Don't worry about him," Val assured Hyper. "He never says much."
"Strong and silent type is he?"
Val grinned. "Summat like that. This is the dorm," he pushed open a door which led to a large room with beds and lockers placed randomly around it. "And through there is showers," he pointed towards a room on the other side of the dorms. "Through here is the mess," they went through the dorms and exited through a third and final door.
"What's your Guv'nor like?" Hyper wanted to know.
"She's all right, for a bird," Val was grinning again. "You don't wanna get on the wrong side of her though!"
"Oh? Is she a dragon then?"
"She can be. There was this guy a couple of weeks ago…" Val started but then cut himself off quickly. "Um… This is the mess, and kitchen," he quickly changed the subject as they arrived in the mess.
Hyper wondered if he should push for information on the intriguing subject. "What did she do?"
"Shouted a lot, she's ex-Army. But they do like to make a noise, don't they chicks?"
"I uh… I guess."
"That completes the grand tour of upstairs anyway. How long you been in this job?" Val questioned.
"Too long," Hyper grinned, not giving much away.
"I supposed when you've seen a couple of stations you've seen em all."
"Pretty much. What about you?"
"Eight months!" Val grinned. "Spent all of them here taking orders from her ladyship!"
"And "her ladyship" would appreciate it if you didn't speak ill of her when she's stood right behind you Valentine!" came a voice from behind him.
Hyper noticed that Lilah had joined them in the mess.
"Um… I wasn't saying anything Guv, honest!"
She gave him a sceptical look. "Yeah, and your halo just slid off."
"I was wondering which locker Rob should have," Val changed the subject.
"The new one."
"Um… it's not arrived yet."
"I thought it was coming yesterday?"
Hyper was lost in the conversation, but it looked like neither Lilah or Val were going to explain things to him. He wondered what could have happened at the station before his arrival, and decided that it must have been something pretty major for them not to be talking about it.
Val shrugged at his boss's question.
Lilah didn't look too happy. "He's still causing hassle," she muttered. "I hope you don't mind living out of your bag for a while!" she turned back to Hyper. "Slight technical hitch!"
"Um… sure…" Hyper wasn't sure what to say.
"If you've finished playing tour guide, Val, you can put the kettle on," Lilah suggested with a glint in her eye.
"Um… sure, Guv. Rob?"
"Er… white, two sugars…"
"Sit down, Rob," Lilah motioned for him to sit at the mess table with her. "Is Ged still in the Watch Room?" she asked Val, who had disappeared into the kitchen.
"Last time I checked."
"He has a habit of sneaking out for a fag," Lilah explained to Hyper.
They were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the crew, who were loudly discussing their last shout, on which, Hyper gathered, something had happened besides the shed fire they had been attending. Although he felt he wasn't going to be party to the information.
The five of them assembled in the mess, Lilah made some brief introductions to "the new leading hand."
"Oh…" the guy called Steve paused after shaking Hyper's hand. "So Si's not coming back then?"
"I should bloody well hope not," Lilah replied. "Got his arse kicked good and proper."
There was a short silence to follow her little speech, which Hyper assumed was about the guy he was replacing. He wondered if he'd ever get to find out what had been going on.
"Book the pump back on the run, Steve and shift your gear," Lilah instructed him.
"Guv," Steve left the mess to carry out the orders.
Hyper thought his new station was quieter than Blackwall in terms of shouts, however he found he had just walked in right in the middle of a scandal. No one was willing to talk about it though, he decided that perhaps they couldn't. However, they all knew much more than they were letting on.
Both appliances were now back on the run, as they now had the required crew to man them. The pump crew were called to someone stuck in a lift in a block of flats.
"It's usually more exciting than this," Lilah promised Hyper.
"Yeah, we're just waiting for the apocalypse!" Steve grinned.
Lilah ignored him.
"Looks like it's between seven and eight," Val was looking up the lift shaft with Steve anchoring him.
"Up you go then," Lilah told him.
"Aww, but Guv," Val moaned. "I went last week!"
"Tough. Rob, go with him," Lilah ordered.
Steve was grinning as he and Lilah checked the second shaft.
"If that one's stuck, this one's bound to be," Lilah commented, mainly for Hyper's benefit.
It seemed the crew had been called to these particular lifts on more than one occasion.
Sure enough they noted that the second lift was also stuck, on the tenth floor. Hyper and Val made their way up to the motor room at the top of the tower block. They started on the stairs.
"Can I ask…" Hyper started. "What happened to the last leading hand?"
"He er… thought he could get one over on the Guv." Val explained.
"In what way?"
"Well, I guess you'll find out soon enough anyway. She caught him stealing from her office."
"Oh, what did he take?"
"Dunno, she never said, but loads of stuff had been going missing from the station for weeks. She had a video camera installed and caught him looking through the desk drawers."
"What happened to him?" Hyper asked.
"He got arrested but there was no evidence he had stolen anything. Well, they couldn't find the items he was supposed to have stolen anyway."
"So, if there was no evidence, why did he get kicked out?"
"Harassment. Tried to get us all to take his side and accused Lilah of picking on him."
"Nah, she treated him the same way she treats everyone else. Hopefully he's given up now…" Val paused as they reached the roof. "Do you smell smoke?"
Hyper sniffed the air. "Yeah..."
Val left the stairwell, Hyper followed. They opened the fire door that led to roof. Clouds of grey smoke could be seen billowing from the motor room. Hyper picked up his radio.
"Guv? We've got a fire in the motor room," he choked.
Outside, Lilah was way ahead of him, having seen the smoke on the roof. "What's the SP up there?"
"There's someone in there," Val was making his way through the smoke.
Hyper reported this to Lilah, who didn't seem happy that Val was ignoring her orders for them to wait for back up.
Hyper grabbed Val as he felt and heard a rumble echoing from the depths of the motor room. He dragged Val down to the ground with him as an explosion rocked the motor room, sending bits of debris scattering all around them.
"How many times have I told you not to rush off into fires!" Lilah was demanding an answer from Val.
"I thought there was someone in there," Val apologised.
"Yeah, well there wasn't. You risked your life and Rob's! You owe him one, and stop acting like a muppet cos next time you might not be so lucky!"
"I think I've learned my lesson, Guv."
"Well, good I hope so. You ok?" Lilah asked turning to Rob.
"Yes, Guv," Hyper replied truthfully.
"Good," Lilah eyed Val for a moment, then switched her attention back to the charred remains of the lift motor room.
Steve was sifting through the debris. "Not another one," he sighed.
From the look on Lilah's face, Hyper could see that she knew exactly what Steve was talking about.
"You don't think it's…" Val inquired.
Lilah glared at him. "I'm not seeing you, Valentine. Ged," she called him up over the radio as he was still on the ground, manning the appliance. "Get the police down here."
The second pump had also been called out to help deal with the tower block fire, which had destroyed the motor room. Lilah's crew arrived back at the station a little less jovial than they had been that morning.
"Rob," Lilah started as they were back in the mess. "Since this concerns you now, I think you should know what's been going on here."
"I told him," Val put in.
Lilah gave him another of her icy glares. "Would you perhaps like to discuss the theory of relativity with him as well Valentine?"
"There's been a series of arson attacks, since Simon um… left," Lilah explained. "There's no evidence, but it's just a big coincidence that they should start now."
"There's nothing to say it's him either," Steve put in helpfully. "I mean, wouldn't he want you to know about it?"
"Probably, maybe he hasn't got round to that yet," Lilah seemed convinced that she knew the identity of the arsonist. "Anyway, since he's putting your life at risk now, I just thought you should be warned," Lilah turned back to Hyper.
"I'll bear it in mind Guv."
He did wonder if there was more to it that just the bit of stealing, which Val had told him about. Val had implied that there had been another incident, but the fire had distracted them before Hyper found out exactly what was going on.
"So, Rob, what's the gossip with you?" Steve decided it was time to change the subject.
"Gossip?" Hyper asked innocently.
"Yeah, girlfriends, wife? Kids? That type of stuff."
"No, no, no and not likely."
"I'm sure you'll meet a lovely girl one day." Steve pressed.
"I won't have a wife."
"Oh, or a girlfriend?"
"Why's that?" Steve hadn't quite picked up on the point.
"He's gay, dumb ass," Val put in helpful. "Sorry," he apologised to Hyper for his outburst.
"Doesn't matter," Hyper replied, he knew it had to come out sooner or later, and was glad that Val didn't seem at all bothered by it.
"Are you?" Steve questioned.
"Am I what?"
"Does that bother you?" Hyper asked.
"Me, nah. I've never met a gay bloke before."
"There's a first time for everything then isn't there," Lilah put in. "I'm going for a fag," she got up and left the mess.
Hyper wondered if it was his revelation that had put her off, Val assured him that it wasn't.
"She's got a lot on her plate at the moment."
They were interrupted by shouts from outside the station. Lilah could be heard as one of the ones shouting. The second voice was male.
"Why are you doing this to me?" the bloke was whining.
"What about what you're doing to me!" Lilah retorted as Val, Steve and Hyper rushed downstairs to see what the noise was about.
"I didn't do anything."
By the time the three of them reached the appliance bay, they were in time to witness the bloke trying to force himself on Lilah, who was fighting him off. Val grabbed the bloke and pulled him away, even though it was obvious that Lilah did not need or appreciate his intervention.
"Come on, Si…" Val tried to calm the bloke, who Hyper realised was the ex-Leading Hand.
Simon tried to shake free of Val, which was proving to be a pretty difficult task for him.
"Call the police, Steve," Lilah ordered.
"Don't do it, Steve," Simon tried to over-ride the order.
Steve hesitated in the doorway of the Watch Room, wondering whom he should side with.
"You're not allowed to come round here," Lilah pointed out. "You know that."
"Only because you say so," Simon retorted.
"The courts say so, Simon."
Hyper wasn't sure where he should place himself in this argument. He decided it was best not to intervene though, as he knew very little about the situation. Steve, it seemed, had made his mind up about whom he was going to support. He disappeared into the Watch Room and picked up the phone.
"Bitch," Simon was yelling, still being held back by Val.
"Go back to your fantasy world, Simon."
"We had sex, does that not mean anything to you?"
Lilah was red faced as Val and Steve looked at her, the revelation obviously being new to them as well.
"We did not have sex!" she tried to object.
"Oh yeah, so how come I know about the scar just above your right hip then!" Simon smirked, thinking he had finally found his leverage.
Lilah found herself backed into a corner, literally as Val momentarily released his grip on the smaller guy. Simon took his chance to go for Lilah again. Hyper thought it was time to intervene, but caught Val shaking his head, warning him to keep out of it. He knew it wasn't his fight, but he couldn't stand back and let a woman get hurt. Lilah, however, knew exactly how to handle herself, although at the moment she wasn't using any physical force to fight back.
"You don't scare me, Simon," she warned.
"Oh I know," he was up close to her now, still she did not push him away.
"What do you want?"
"You know what I want, what I've always wanted," he whispered in her ear.
She let him move his hands towards the inside of her shirt and then she struck. Simon yelped and double over in front of her, clutching his groin.
"Bitch," he managed to croak.
"We did not have sex," Lilah emphasized. "It's all in his head. You do believe me?" she looked at the three of them, now ignoring Simon who was still rolling round on the floor in pain.
"I don't think I can pass judgement, Guv," Hyper apologised.
Her eyes flicked to Val.
She rounded on Steve who was still standing in the doorway of the Watch Room.
Steve paused for a moment. "He took that stuff," he started. "And he sent you those roses, I saw him."
She flicked back to Val, who hauled Simon up to his feet.
"Is that true?" there was a fierce glare in the black man's wild eyes.
"Bollocks," was Simon's reply.
"You won't have any if you come round here again," Val warned him. "Just leave us alone. You want witnesses, Guv? I'll tell you what this little shit was up to, chapter and verse!"
"Bastard," Simon squeaked, still reeling from where Lilah had hit him. "She's got you all twisted round her little finger. I bet it's all cosy here! And now you've got another little minion. Were you having a foursome up there!"
Hyper decided to take offence at being called a minion. "I think you'd better leave."
"Yeah? You gonna stop me?" Simon challenged.
"No, but they will," Hyper noticed the police car pulling up outside the station.
Simon tried to make his escape, but Val was still holding his shirt.
"Not so fast, mate," Val warned, physically handing the smaller bloke over to the police officers. "Heard they do mean chili's in Wandsworth!"
"You ok?" Hyper asked, concerned for Lilah as Simon was escorted away.
"Fine, I can handle him."
"So I saw! Is that why he got sacked?" Hyper wondered.
"I turned him down," Lilah explained. "He just wouldn't take no for an answer. He started sending me anonymous love letters and roses and… stuff… I caught him stealing… underwear… from my bag, amongst other things."
Hyper nodded. "He's out of your life now."
"Just one thing though," Hyper frowned.
"Do you really have a scar on your right hip?"
Lilah just looked at him. "What do you think Rob?"
He didn't answer.
"It was a mistake."
"We all make them," he agreed. "But he shouldn't be hassling you like that."
"Are you always this supportive?"
He smiled. "I'm just a mug!"
She smiled back. "Then we'll get along just fine! It's a pity you're gay, you would make a wonderful husband!"
Hyper looked around the appliance bays of the fire station. "You know, this place isn't much different from Blackwall. I think I'll like it here!"
They shared a laugh as Simon was taken away by the police just as the pump ladder crew rolled back in. Naturally, they wanted to know what had been going on, Lilah left Val and Steve to fill them in on the afternoon's revelations.