"It didn't go exactly as planned", Alicia admitted, inhaling sharply as Rupert pressed gauze to her wound.
"Hold that", Rupert said and he began to wind the bandage around Alicia's arm, "Where's Sally?"
"Oh she's probably sulking somewhere, she wasn't impressed with how it all turned out", Betty's voice cut in, filled with wicked glee, "though that girl never has worked out how to have fun".
"I would suggest, Miss Hills, that right now you keep your mouth shut", Rupert said, "Alicia? From the very beginning please?"
Two months earlier
"I still can't believe you've been sneaking around doing this for months and you never told me, you beast", Betty said as she followed Alicia down the path towards the town. After the Easter weekend, Betty had come to spend the rest of the hols with Alicia and most of their time had been spent avoiding the rest of Alicia's family while Betty inundated Alicia with questions.
"Marie wasn't exactly overjoyed when the other two found out", Alicia said, "It isn't like I chose to tell them".
That was the part that appeased Betty. While Darrell Rivers and, even worse in Betty's eyes, Sally Hope had known this grand secret about Alicia for months, they had learnt through circumstance. Alicia had chosen to tell Betty.
"Still, weren't you awfully bored with those two being the only ones you could talk to about all this. I bet they were so just and good about it all", Betty wasn't being quiet. Alicia had gotten used to quiet on patrol. Either she patrolled by herself where she was silent the entire time bar the occasional verbal jab aimed at a vampire to throw them off their game, or she patrolled with Sally who only said what was necessary in her usual soft-spoken way. Alicia was surprised to learn she had gotten rather used to - dare she even say appreciative - of the latter.
Alicia ignored Betty's comment, "Come on, I want to do a loop down near the station", she had only shared vague details of the supernatural and had omitted matters that might expose the specifics of what had happened to Sally or Darrell.
"I am glad you told me Alicia", Betty said and she sounded so pleased that Alicia pushed the dread over what Marie might say about all this to one side.
"Just make sure you do what I tell you okay?", Alicia reminded her, "I'm serious about it being dangerous".
"Yes, yes. I heard you the first three times, do stop fretting 'Licia", Betty said.
Alicia nodded but the knot returned in her stomach as she angled their route down towards the old train station. About twenty minutes walk from the Johns' family home, it was the ideal hiding place and Alicia couldn't shake the growing worry that the supernatural world was going to hit closer to home sooner rather than later.
"Come on", she whispered, gesturing for Betty to stay behind her as they reached the overgrown path down to the train station.
Twigs cracked beneath their feet, no matter how careful Alicia was. Sharp noises pierced the night, leaving echoes behind them and no doubt announcing their arrival to anyone within the area who cared to listen. She sensed rather than saw Betty open her mouth to say something and waved for her to stop. Maybe it was the fear of having brought another friend into the midst of danger, maybe it was her developing Slayer senses, either way, Alicia could feel the gentle and indescribable thrum of realisation that there was a vampire nearby.
Alicia moved quicker, hoping to leave Betty behind a little and keep her out of harm's way but her friend was frustratingly adept at keeping up with her. If the vampire hadn't heard their footsteps, it would no doubt hear the pounding of Alicia's heart and the speed it was pushing blood to her limbs. She put one hand on the stake at her belt and wrapped her fingers around it slowly and firmly.
The timing was everything. Even when they knew you were coming.
Alicia waited until she heard the first fall of footsteps and then rushed low towards the sound. The vampire jumped out from the thick of trees and bushes around the path just as Alicia reached him and she used her lowered body and momentum to shoulder charge him. The vampire landed hard amongst the foliage but moved in time to avoid Alicia's follow up kick. With a quick shift of her position, Alicia forced the vampire to stay in a defensive position and back away from where she had left Betty. One clumsy punch was easy ducked by Alicia and she landed her blow in the vampire's abdomen. The vampire threw a second swing, Alicia jumped backwards to avoid that one and then swept the vampire's legs from beneath him as she ran back in on the attack. This time she followed the vampire down and slammed her stake into his chest.
"Bloody hell!", Betty exclaimed as the vampire burst into dust.
Alicia just nodded and got back up, only half-listening to the enthused chatter that followed from her best friend. She turned around slowly, looking and listening as best she could for signs of any more vampires. Vampires could just as easily be pack hunters as lone predators and it wasn't as though she could just ask before dusting them if they had any friends nearby.
"Let's loop the station and head back", Alicia said when there was a gap in Betty's talk. She started walking, giving Betty little choice but to follow.
"I'm old enough to go into town by myself", June protested as Marion Johns swept around the kitchen, returning it to some semblance of normality after lunch-time. Alicia maintained it was the three boys who caused all the mess and they protested greatly to that accusation. Marion set her children various jobs to make her life easier when they were at home but she had learnt a long time ago that she was better off not tasking them to getting the kitchen back to how she wanted it.
"And yet last time you went by yourself, I got a phone call to say that you had gotten into a row with the boy who runs errands for the Cheshams. It was the talk of the town how you two went off at one another in the middle of the store", Marion said as she levelled a look at June.
"He started it", June grumbled.
"Someone else always does", Marion said as she finished folding the tea towels and putting them to one side, "Alicia has already had her chance to complain about having to go with you so off you go and find her and the sooner you get it over and done with the happier you'll be".
Arguing with Marion rarely got any of the children anywhere - even if they weren't her own children - so June sighed and stomped off to find her cousin.
"Buck up June, the world hasn't ended", Betty grinned as June found her and Alicia out the front of the house tidying the garden.
"Not yet", June huffed when Alicia handed her a watering can and pointed for her to put it to the side, "Can we just get this over with?"
"Gosh, it's just such a mystery why you don't have any friends June", Betty teased.
June glared at Betty and then glanced at Alicia. Alicia watched her cautiously for any indication that June might make a snide comment about the temporary break-down in Alicia and Betty's own friendship. June pursed her lips and then turned to Alicia.
"How's Darrell?", June asked in a voice much smoother than her usual tones.
Alicia didn't need to look at Betty to know her friend had bristled, June's smirk told her that well enough.
"Stop being a prejudiced ass, June", Alicia shot back, deliberately misinterpreting June's attempt to cause trouble between her and Betty, "Are you ready to go?"
Alicia didn't wait for June to respond before she headed down to the gate out of the front garden. She heard Betty say something behind her, not directed at her, and she wished that her friend could just keep her mouth shut for once. Even if just for a little while.
They had nearly reached town before June couldn't cope with the silence anymore,
"Did you hear that someone attacked Mrs Thornton?"
Alicia's curiosity got the better of her and she pushed her irritation at June aside, "No. How'd you hear that?"
"Sam was discussing it with that boy from the house down the way", June shrugged, though she looked rather pleased that she knew something that Alicia didn't. Alicia let her have the moment.
"Well", June frowned as she recalled the details, "apparently she couldn't find her cat and was listening out for it late into the night, heard a noise at the door and went to check thinking it was the cat. Sure enough the cat was on the path so she went to get him and a man just jumped out and grabbed her. She grabbed the lid of her bin, walloped him with it and ran back into the house. She thought he'd chase her but he just...stood in the pathway for a moment staring at her before running off. It all sounds jolly peculiar".
"Was she hurt?", Alicia asked.
"She swears the man tried to bite her but she hit him before he could", June said.
"Just how closely were you listening in on this conversation?", Alicia asked suspiciously.
June blushed, "Well, the postman said something about it to Aunt Marion this morning as well".
"Listening at doors June? Not very becoming", Betty teased and Alicia pretended not to see the rude hand gesture June made.
"It's a bit worrying though, isn't it?", June pushed and Alicia wondered if she had perhaps been too transparent with her concern, "I don't know if they caught the man or even have any idea who he is".
Or whether someone drove a stake through his chest after he was at Mrs Thornton's place, Alicia thought. It certainly didn't do anything to ease her worries about returning to Malory Towers and leaving her mother all alone.
Darrell fought the urge to squirm in the chair as Dr Cudson slowly read the notes.
"Hmm", Dr Cudson made a low noise. Darrell hated that noise. Her father 'hmmed' when there was something he wasn't completely happy with. Dr Matthewson had 'hmmed' when she had reviewed the notes from Darrell's physical tests and her scans. It was a doctor thing, of that Darrell was quite sure.
She looked around the room while she waited, at the books lining the shelves and the piles of journals on the desk. She wondered how many of them Dr Cudson had referred to when he was first treating her.
"And you say you didn't do any sports last term? I'm surprised by these notes from Dr Matthewson if there aren't any means of explaining them-", Dr Cudson said, clearly referring to the pain and reduced healing in Darrell's knee.
"No, no sports, but it is school and I probably did overdo things", Darrell interrupted. Dr Cudson looked up at her and she was relieved when he nodded slowly; after all, she was hardly going to be able to say that there had been running involved in fleeing a pack of Werewolves.
"These stronger painkillers could make it more difficult for you to concentrate, did Dr Matthewson talk through that with you?", Dr Cudson asked, and at Darrell's nod he continued, "and you're quite sure you don't need to talk further about the scarring?"
Even though she had been expecting the question, it made her flinch.
"What good would talking about it do? Nothing will get rid of it", Darrell said, and she didn't manage to keep the bitterness from her voice.
Dr Cudson put down the notes and looked as though he were going to make her talk, then he nodded,
"The therapist in Cornwall will bring it up again".
Darrell just about stopped herself from sighing with relief. Talk of Cornwall and therapy meant Dr Cudson was going to sign off on her return to school. She collected the paperwork and prescriptions from Dr Cudson, thanked him and hurried back to the main reception.
Theresa Rivers was waiting in the reception area and she smiled when Darrell came out,
"Good news then?".
Darrell ran through what the doctor had said and they walked the short distance to the hospital pharmacy to put in her prescriptions and collect her medications.
"Are we still collecting Sally on the way down tomorrow?", Darrell asked when they returned to the car.
The Hopes hadn't allowed Sally to stay with the Rivers at all over the Easter holiday and Darrell was half expecting a follow-up call to say they weren't going to let her be in a car with Darrell either. Either that or that they had pulled Sally out of Malory Towers.
"Diane called and confirmed this morning", Theresa said, "Arthur is away on business so it's much simpler if we collect her".
"So it's a necessary evil, her being in a car with me. They'll take the risk of me doing something crazy if the alternative inconveniences them", Darrell said bitterly as she climbed into the passenger's seat.
She winced as she bent her knee too quickly and a sharp pain shot down her leg. She closed her hand around the bag with her prescription but decided against taking painkillers when her mother could see her. It would only bring questions and worries, and she wasn't risking anything stopping her returning to school.
"Darrell, don't say things like that", Theresa said as she got in the driver's side, "there's plenty of people out there who will use words to hurt you. Please don't turn them on yourself".
"I was joking", Darrell said but she could hear herself that she sounded insincere.
"You weren't. If you were or if you were reclaiming the words people use to hurt you, I wouldn't have said anything", Theresa put her hand on Darrell's forearm, "don't take on the things other people say. I know… no, I imagine it isn't easy".
"I thought it would hurt less if I used those words too", Darrell admitted, "it doesn't. Just makes me wonder if they're right to say the things they do".
Theresa sighed and squeezed Darrell's arm gently, "They're not, but I don't suppose I can convince you of that just yet".
Darrell changed the subject abruptly, not bothering to be subtle, "I think I'll go into town later, do you want me to pick anything up?"
Theresa accepted the change of topic and started the car.
Darrell pocketed the list her mother had given her after checking she had picked everything up. There had been mercifully little small talk. No-one particularly wanted to talk to her nowadays, not now whispers were well established about her "problems". More hurtful were the parents who put themselves between Darrell and their children once they spotted her. Or crossed the road. Darrell tidied the way that made her feel - a twisted mix of sadness, grief and rage - away and headed into the library.
"Hello, one last visit before school restarts?", Miss Wilson asked from behind the counter. Darrell spoke to her for a minute and then hurried back into the archive room where she carefully took the book she had found in the Spring, simply titled 'Reaper', down from the shelf. With Felicity off staying with Susan for most of the hols and no-one from school to spend the time with, Darrell had focused her energy on reading as much of the book as she could, taking notes as she did. It wasn't the easiest of matters as the staff at the library became suspicious when she spent too long in the archives and her parents became suspicious when she went to the library too often.
She hadn't even made it through a quarter of the book over the entire hols. Darrell carefully turned over to some of the later pages and wished she could just absorb all the information there, it all seemed so important she hated to leave it behind. Darrell glanced at the front desk and then back at the book. Time ticked ever so slowly in her head and she looked down at the bag at her feet and then shook her head. Even if the book weren't so big, she couldn't go stealing it. She wasn't a thief.
"Everything okay, Darrell?", Miss Wilson poked her head around from the left of the archive room and Darrell jumped. She was sure her cheeks had gone crimson in betrayal of the thoughts that had been running through her head and she cleared her throat before answering.
"J-just...", and she looked down at the book and struggled to come up with any kind of believable explanation.
Miss Wilson walked over slowly. Darrell stepped back and barely dared to breathe as Miss Wilson looked at the book and the notepad beside it.
"Why are you so interested in this particular book?", Miss Wilson asked carefully.
Darrell ran answers through her head, dismissing each one as it came to her. She couldn't tell the truth, of course, and all the lies she came up with were so obvious that she daren't voice them. Darrell had never been very good at lying and the few times she had tried, when she was younger, hadn't gone well for anyone involved so she avoided doing so now. Though, saying nothing, as she had done with the Conduit, was a lie of sorts. A lie of omission people called it and Darrell could sometimes get away with those if she had to. It was when she tried to talk her way out of things she got into more trouble.
"Sometimes, when there's a significant and frightening change in our lives, such as an accident or an illness", Miss Wilson spoke carefully, watching Darrell for a reaction, "We can be drawn to looking for answers. An explanation to try and muddle out questions we have about mortality and humanity", Miss Wilson put her hand on the book, "We might even become preoccupied with the macabre".
That hadn't even crossed Darrell's mind as a possible excuse and yet, as Miss Wilson said those words, they hit something tender and unexamined, and Darrell breathed in sharply to calm the pounding in her chest. Miss Wilson smiled and looked back at the book.
"Is this helping?", Miss Wilson asked, "To work through whatever is weighing on you?"
Darrell nodded, finding that she didn't feel as though any part of this was a lie. Miss Wilson nodded and, after a quick look around the library, inclined her head towards the door into the back room.
"We have more than one copy of some books in the archive, particularly those that are older but not particularly rare like this one...", Miss Wilson mused as she rummaged, "and I thought...ah, here it is".
Miss Wilson straightened up from the box she was digging through and she was holding a scruffier copy of the book Darrell had been reading. The cover was peeling away in places and some of the pages were misaligned from the others.
"This one was vandalised by someone who didn't think content such as this should be kept in a public library. We never got around to repairing it", Miss Wilson explained and, after a final moment of hesitation, she handed it to Darrell, "If this becomes a preoccupation that causes trouble in your life, you must promise me you'll tell someone".
Darrell nodded, barely able to believe her eyes as she held the battered tome in her hands.
"Go home and enjoy the last few days of your holidays", Miss Wilson's voice grew sterner for a moment and Darrell hurried to put the book into her bag.
"Thank you", she said before she rushed out of the library. Now she just had to figure out how to get it back to school with her.
Sally checked her room one last time to make sure she had everything. Daffy had followed her around all morning from room to room like a chatterbox shadow. She maintained she was "helping" and Sally didn't mind; if there was one silver lining to the hols it had been spending time with her little sister.
"The Rivers are here", her mother called from downstairs. Daffy ran off and Sally followed at a more sedate pace with her suitcase in one hand and her hand luggage in the other. She was surprised to see that it was Darrell who had come up to the door to help. Sally cast a quick look at her mother and rolled her eyes at the look of horror that Diane Hope quickly covered up with a painfully fake smile.
"Darrell!", Daffy launched herself from the bottom step into Darrell, who only just caught her in time. Diane looked as though she might scream.
"Hallo Daffy", Darrell spun Daffy around, though perhaps more carefully than she might have in previous years.
"You didn't come and see me for ages", Daffy said with the reproach of a slighted child.
"I'm ever so sorry", Darrell said and Sally laughed when Daffy said that she would forgive Darrell this time.
"Better not keep your parents waiting", Sally said, one eye on her mother and wondering when she would lose her composure.
Darrell took Sally's case and left Sally to say one last goodbye to her family.
"You gave my mother quite the surprise", Sally said once the car had pulled off and she had finished waving to her little sister, "Was that intentional?"
"Perhaps", Darrell said, but she grinned as she said it and Sally elbowed her gently.
"I am sorry about her, all the same", Sally sighed and settled back into the seat.
Darrell waved off her apology. Soon the conversation moved on to what they had been up to over the hols and then onto Malory Towers and the term ahead. The miles went by as they drove further south and conversation ebbed and flowed. After a particularly long silence, Sally looked over at Darrell and saw that her friend had fallen asleep.
It was even little changes like that which reminded Sally how everything was different now. Darrell had never slept on a drive down to Malory Towers before, she was always too excited to do so. Now her insomnia and her medication gave her erratic sleeping patterns.
"She was nervous about going back today", Felicity had obviously seen her looking, "I don't think she slept well".
"How are your form about all this?", Sally asked.
Felicity shrugged, "Some are better than others. They mostly don't talk about it, except sometimes Susan. Or June".
"I bet she has plenty to say about it", Sally said dryly, thinking of the antagonistic second former.
"She hasn't been how I'd expected actually", Felicity said, a thoughtful expression falling over her face, "there's not been any nasty comments or insults. It's more like she's interested".
Sally was about to say that was strange, considering the antagonistic history between Darrell and June, but Michael announced they were going to stop for lunch so Sally turned and shook Darrell awake instead.
After lunch, Darrell and Sally walked the rubbish down to the nearest bin, which gave them time to talk.
"Have you heard from Alicia at all?", Darrell asked.
Sally nearly laughed at the question until she saw Darrell was serious.
"Alicia only calls me when she's worried about you", Sally said, "I didn't expect to hear from her. But it is odd that you haven't".
Something tickled at the back of Sally's mind, a reminder of how something had seemed off about Alicia just before they broke up for Easter. She tried to chase the thought for a moment but she couldn't quite get a hold of it, and she brushed it away when Darrell spoke again.
"Maybe she was just busy", Darrell shrugged but Sally could tell she was preoccupied.
"Probably, you know what she gets like sometimes", she saw no reason to worry Darrell more.
They threw the rubbish into the bin and Sally glanced at the distance back to the car before speaking again, "I'm trying really hard not to rush you Darrell but what we discussed at Marie and Harriet's house…"
Darrell glanced back to the car as well. It was a stalling tactic, just like Sally had used it as; they both knew they would have to shout for anyone else to hear them. Still, even though Darrell had been the one to ask how the demon Conduit had been excised from her, Sally couldn't blame her for being hesitant about discussing it again. Tearing open the main cause of your trauma wasn't to be undertaken lightly, Sally could attest to that.
"I had hoped we would have the hols and some measure of privacy", Darrell admitted, "It's not really something I want anyone else stumbling upon us discussing".
Darrell started to walk back up towards the car and Sally turned to follow her. Sally frowned as she saw Darrell was limping. She hadn't noticed when they had walked down, having been side-by-side. She was toying with whether she should ask or leave it be when Darrell continued,
"And we can't exactly discuss it now", Darrell said.
"I just…", Sally took a deep breathe and struggle to put her thoughts into words.
"It's weighing on you. And I've come and pulled at the strings but not opened the whole thing up. Which isn't fair", Darrell said, "I know, and I'm sorry. Look, we're not going to get privacy tonight either but before the end of this first week we will make time".
All at once, Sally was relieved and terrified and she was quite grateful that Felicity, re-energised by the lunch stop it seemed, had an awful lot to say on the next part of the drive.
Theresa Rivers pulled the car into the drive of Malory Towers just as late afternoon was setting in.
Felicity barely waited for the car to stop before jumping out and disappearing into an excited crowd of second formers. Sally went to get out too and saw out the corner of her eye that Darrell had gone awfully still. When Sally turned back to look at her friend, there was panic drawn across Darrell's face.
"Go on, it's okay", Theresa said gently to Sally, and Michael got out of the car as well to help unpack the cases.
Sally followed reluctantly and helped lift out the cases. For a split second, her worry distracted her and she picked up one of the heavy cases with one hand without thinking to mask her supernatural strength. Michael did a double-take and Sally hurried to put the case down.
Mercifully, they were interrupted by Alicia and Irene arriving.
"Train made good time then?", Sally greeted.
"No Darrell?", Irene asked with a frown after they exchanged greetings.
Sally nodded towards the car where Darrell and Theresa were still talking. Alicia looked over the situation for a moment.
"Too much going on?", Irene asked, her astute observation surprising Sally.
"I think so", Sally said and she was quite relieved when Darrell finally got out of the car.
Irene clapped Darrell on the shoulder in greeting, as always a little harder than she intended, and Darrell managed a smile and a few words of greeting.
"Has Felicity just run off without any of her luggage again?", Theresa sighed as she searched for her, "Michael, can you run the...", Theresa glanced at the other girls stood with Darrell and Sally and faltered, "...the updates over to Miss Potts while I try and find Felicity?"
"I'll do it later once it's quieter", Darrell said, a terse edge to her tone that confirmed that the 'updates' were about her condition.
Irene cleared her throat, a nervous habit when situations became uncomfortable and Alicia caught Sally's eye and raised an eyebrow. They stepped away as Theresa and Michael spoke quietly to Darrell. Felicity, of course, was still nowhere to be seen.
"There you are, I wondered where you'd gone", Betty's voice came from nowhere and Sally watched as a peculiar look flashed over Alicia's face.
Irene crinkled up her nose and Sally wondered if she was about to voice what Sally was thinking. That they all thought Alicia-and-Betty were no more. Before either of them could say anything though, Alicia had hurried off through the crowds of girls with Betty. Irene's eyebrows shot up as she pulled a comical expression,
"My, everyone seems all out of sorts this term. Don't you go off the deep end on me", Irene said.
Sally chuckled and shook her head, "Come on, let's go find some of the others while Darrell finishes up. I think it's a bit less uncomfortable for her if we're not standing about here".
Irene agreed happily and they took their cases and bags - once Irene found hers - up to the fifth form dorm where some of the others were already in various stages of unpacking. Greetings and updates from the hols were exchanged as they unpacked and the rest of the form arrived one by one until there were only two beds left.
"Where's Catherine?", Alicia asked, nodding to the empty bed beside Moira.
"She isn't returning for this term. Or Sixth Form", Moira said stiffly as she finished putting her toiletries into her bedside table.
"Oh, has something happened?", Mary Lou asked. Sally smiled, trust Mary Lou to be the one to voice concern about Catherine's well-being.
Moira pursed her lips and looked around the room before answering, "Her parents didn't want her to return, she's changed school".
"Why-ever not?", Alicia scoffed as she shoved some of her belonging into her bedside drawer.
"Please. I'm sure you can work it out", Moira said coldly and she looked pointedly at the last empty bed before sweeping from the room in an excessively grand indication that the conversation was over.
"You know, a few weeks and I almost forgot what a bitch she is", Alicia said and a few of the girls gasped.
"Alicia!", Mary Lou chastised, "if a teacher hears you saying that you'll get in trouble".
"That", Alicia said as she pushed her case to the end of her bed, "doesn't make it any less true now, does it?".
With that, Alicia left the dorm as well, leaving a peculiar atmosphere behind her. A few seconds later, Darrell finally arrived.
"Has there been a row already?", Darrell asked, putting her case and bag down and sitting on her bed with a grimace of pain, "Moira practically knocked me over and Alicia went running off towards West Tower".
"Where would any last term be without some drama?", Belinda commented as she lay on her bed and put her hands behind her head.
Before Darrell could ask any more questions, Sally walked over and nudged her,
"Come on, I'll help you unpack", she said, "or Matron will be doling out order marks on our first day back".
Sally wasn't convinced that Darrell hadn't seen her clumsy efforts to change the topic for what they were but it distracted her long enough that Darrell seemed to genuinely forget about the tension in the form. By the time the bell for dinner went, the conversations were back to what people had gotten up to over the hols. As they took their seats at the table, Sally spotted Alicia and Betty hurry in behind the South Tower Fourth Formers. Alicia looked like she was hushing Betty and gesturing for her to stop talking. Then, before Sally could see anything else, Alicia parted ways with Betty and rushed over to take her seat.
"Mes petites, it is lovely to have you all back", Mamzelle smiled warmly as she looked around the table.
"We're not so petite anymore Mamzelle", Alicia said, "Sixth formers next term".
"Ah, Alicia, you will all always be mes petites. Even when you are thirty and married with children", Mamzelle beamed at her.
"What if we're married without children?", Belinda asked.
"Or not married and have no children?", Irene said, "Can we still be tes petites then?"
"Lord, are we playing at this kind of silliness already?", Moira grumbled.
Sally shook her head and smiled, in moments like this she could almost believe they were all just ordinary school girls. She glanced over at the West Tower table to where Betty was sat and frowned. Almost.