"Are you being got at?" I demanded suddenly furious, was that why Sharon was so busy keeping me occupied, so that poor Phyllis was without help?
"I think so," hesitated Phyllis, she was black around both eyes, either from crying or from not being able to sleep. "Mum said they might give up if I didn't talk about it, and kept on going to the meetings."
We looked at each other in silence. "I'm sorry," I said after a long pause, "I wish you'd rung me and told me..."
"I nearly did," she said, "But you're always with Sharon."
"Don't worry about her," I interupted sharply, "She got rather tiddley and confessed to being a blue bottle."
Phyllis began to laugh. It was uncontrollable and after a while developed into sobs.
"What can I do?" I asked, "What sort of things are they doing to you?"
*Not much," said Pyllis quietly wiping her eyes. "just sending me customers so far. Making me feel bad about not helping them be nasty at meetings."
"Putting the pressure on so you can't refuse so easily?" I said thinking it over. "It must be hard on you."
"The customers they send have plenty of money," said Phyllis in an upset tone, "I just wonder where they got it from. That last one, she's buying a dress for herself and one for her daughter for the school prom."
"Good business," I agreed.
"Yes on the face of it," said Phyllis, "Then one of the Tripod called earlier to say to take the order for exactly what she wants and when she calls back to say, her daughter's dress might need alterations and she's got to wait until nearer the date. I think they're up to something!"
"Yes, I bet they are," I said grimly. "You'll have to be careful or you're likely to lose business."
"The business isn't on good ground yet, Marry" replied Phyllis worriedly, "It'll go under if there's any funny stuff. I can't afford it."
"You know what," I said firmly, "Stop worrying and come to lunch with Paul and me."
"I can't," wailed Phyllis, "If I haven't a business, I'm likely to be out of my home and on the streets in weeks, the government's rules re housing help, is likely to push me under completely."
"Pardon?" I felt stupid, what rules re housing help? Were people out of work starving and thrown on the streets? Sounded Dickenson to me.
Paul wandered in, and broke our two girl conversation, he stood close to me and waited.
"You two arguing?" he asked outright.
"No," I replied slipping one hand into his, he was warm. "Just I don't understand. Phyllis got upset about it."
"Why don't you come around tonight Phyllis?" I asked gently, she'd have recovered her sang froid by then surely? We could really talk.
"About 7ish," she agreed, "Go on and have some fun!"
She shushed us out into the early summer sunshine, in the old street. The soft grey buildings around us towered up, and were relieved by the people wandering up and down the cobbles.
"Pizza?" he asked, "Only I haven't much time."
Poor Paul I'd kept him waiting so long. "Yummy!"
"Nom nom," he said and laughed.
"School kid!" i threw back at him.
"When are you off to work?" he asked.
"Later today, I'm on the usual ward today," I told him, "So far it's been okay this week."
"Dunno how you do it," he said, "In a mental health hospital all day. I couldn't do it."
"Theyr'e only people," I pointed out sharply, "Once you see that, it's an easy job."
"Stuffed crust?" he asked, pointing to the menu. "I like this one. I heard it was the staff you have to watch!"
i had to laugh, he didn't know how correct he was. Some of them were downright dangerous. The games they played with people. it wasn't just the medicine, it was the use of psychology in order to confuse and demean folk I didn't like. I'd gone down in hours to try and stay away from the worst of it all.
The latest gossip on the nurses network was the game that Sharon was playing: how long before the victim or her friend was likely to come in for treatment. I couldn't tell him all about it. It was better for him not to know.
The radio show had advertised it so well it was all over the county and they'd got hold of some private emails she had written about her childhood, and had released them too on air or on twacker or somesuch. It had taken me a little while to see how things fit together - and now I had put them in place. I almost wish I wasn't in the service.
We sat there playing kneesies under the table, two teenagers under the skin, still working out each other. I hoped it would last. It wasn't good to know everything about someone. What did it leave?