"The Doc is here."
"Are you going to tell her?"
Maisie watched the doorway.
"Oh, I think she already knows."
They both heard the footsteps coming across the tiled waiting room floor. Magrat moved away from the doorway and shrank backwards towards the head nurse, all the while following her stare.
Doctor Troy came into the room and went straight across to Magrat. She wrapped her arms around the girl and held her tight.
"Oh, Magrat." Releasing her from the hug, Tuki stepped back.
"I am sooooo sorry. I'm sorry about the Barrets. I'm sorry about Jake. Please believe me when I say that most people in Hope are not like them."
Magrat looked Doctor Troy straight in the eyes.
"Most people in the camp are exactly like that."
Tuki nodded and agreed, sadly.
"I know. I know and that's why it's so important to turn you into a medic, someone they will respect."
Magrat gestured to the chair where Jake Johnson had been sitting.
"Do you think it will make any difference? I didn't see much respect and stuff going on here."
Maisie stepped over to the chair and put both hands on the backrest.
"Arseholes like this don't respect anyone, kid. Jake and people like him need someone to hate so they can hide their own weakness and fear in a mob of other like-minded arseholes."
Tuki joined in.
"Hope used to be full of people like Jake. You couldn't move without some arsehole winking at you."
The small joke lightened the mood a little.
"When I first started visiting the camps, it was because the partner of one of the inner-circle was eighteen hours into a difficult birth.
He had pretty much decided to kidnap me if I wouldn't come to help voluntarily. And he had to guard me every second I was there because every guy there wanted to... well, you can guess."
Magrat nodded. Oh yes, she could guess exactly what the men of the gang wanted to do to a pretty young woman who had walked so invitingly into their camp.
"But," Tukiko continued. "After that one visit, it was the mothers who put pressure on the men to ask me to go back and help them, too.
It was also the mothers who kept the men away from me as I tended to them and their children."
Tukiko folded her arms and looked up at the flaking ceiling of the treatment room.
"And then, one day, it was suddenly one of the men that needed my help. That changed things; after that, we had an arrangement.
The leadership saw that I was good to have around and, despite themselves, they respected the fact that I could take away pain, save lives and even bring new life into the camp.
" She chanced a look at Magrat and saw that, though she was taking in what she was saying, the girl's expression suggested that she wasn't quite believing it.
"If you've got the skills, Magrat they'll respect you. The mothers will see to that." She grinned. "Even Longhands had a mother once. A mother who wiped his nose and spanked his ass.
Little boys quickly learn that you just don't mess with your mom, and they carry that knowledge all through their lives."
Imagining Longhands as a little boy made everyone smile.
"So, what then?" Magrat said, the doubt creeping into her voice. "I just 'get in' with all the moms in camp and then everything will be cool?"
Tuki joined Maisie and leaned back against the operating table.
"It'll help. So will remembering that Longhands wants this. He wants you to succeed, so he'll be keeping a protective eye on you for sure.
But really, it's all about you having the confidence to deal with the inevitable 'arseholes', as Maise loves to put it." She stopped and deliberately didn't look at her head nurse.
"Who knows, you might even get so pig-headedly confident that you could probably punch a man on the nose and get away with it."
While Magrat laughed, Maisie suddenly found something to pretend to be busy with.
Tuki crossed over to Magrat and held her hands.
"It's all up to you in the end." She flicked her head in the direction of her head nurse.
"Maisie here can teach you, but you've got to have enough confidence to start with to believe that you can do it." She paused and looked into Magrat's eyes. "Do you?"
Magrat hesitated for only a second. She had always been so afraid of the aggressive males in the gang. Their sudden tempers, their desires. This was her only chance of escaping it.
She squeezed Doctor Troy's hands.
"Yes, I do."
Tuki almost jumped up and down, but then remembered that she didn't do that anymore.
"Good! Now, I've just come from a meeting with my... I mean the mayor, and she suggested something that gave me an idea."
Letting go of the now much happier teenager, Tuki addressed both of them.
"Maise. Find some scrubs for Magrat... And maybe do something with her hair?" She shrugged and turned to Magrat. "Anyway. Enough for today. Tomorrow Maisie is going to take you out on her rounds.
"Seriously? This is what you want me to wear?"
Maisie put her hands on her hips and sighed.
"For the last time. Yes. This is what you have to wear."
Magrat crossed over to the glass-fronted dispensary cabinet and twisted around in front of it to try and get a better view of the whole outfit in her reflection.
Meanwhile, she continued to question the head nurse's reasoning.
"And the kids don't throw stones at you when you got out?"
"They wouldn't dare. Look. It's either this or the pink one, take your pick but the doc says you can't go to the hostels looking like a damned raider." The teenager didn't seem to be listening.
Magrat stopped trying to see her own butt and grinned at the other woman.
"Hey. You used my name." Her expression changed to one of cheeky slyness. "Am I winning you over?"
Maisie looked to the ceiling for strength. But it was true. The ragamuffin teenager, although still infuriatingly infuriating, had impressed the very experienced and famously cynical nurse.
Maisie was starting to see not only why the doc had picked Magrat for medic training, but why she was making the extra effort by fetching her here from the Devil's Own camp.
Having gained the necessary fortitude from the peeling paint of the cracked and sagging plater, Maisie returned her attention to Magrat, now standing in front of her.
"Look. I've explained why you can't..."
Magrat rolled her eyes in teenage impatience.
"I know, I know. I get it. Really, I understand." Her expression changed to one of sad memory. "I was one of them once, remember."
Maisie's throat tightened. It was easy to think of Magrat as just one of the Devil's Own. In reality, though, she wasn't.
Magrat was a drudge, a handy euphemism for what was really a slave, and she had been one for several years.
Only if she completed her training would she be elevated out of that position and actually become a full member of the gang.
Not exactly much of an improvement in anyone else's eyes, but in Magrat's world it was the best she could hope for.
The moment was in danger of becoming awkward, which allowed Maisie to demonstrate the people handling skills she hoped to pass on to the girl standing in front of her.
"Not pink then."
Magrat's smile returned.
"No. Not pink."
Together, they restocked the trunk of the old car Maisie used for her rounds. Unlike Doctor Troy, Maisie had no intention of traipsing around Hope Springs with a pair of huge, heavy holdalls.
In a nod towards the ancient ambulances,
Maisie had paid a couple of the teenagers who hung around the statue of Noah Barret to paint the near wreck of a car white and put a big red cross on the doors.
As it turned out, whitewash wasn't the best option, so the result was a kind of runny pale grey with pink stains on the doors.
It was on the short trip to the hostels that Maisie learned something else about her young trainee. It was her first car trip.
Maisie's first clue was the way Magrat sat bolt upright, staring straight ahead, with one hand braced against the dashboard and the other clutching the armrest as if her life depended on it.
The second clue, and the clincher,
were the loud protestations about the speed the head nurse was driving at and the fact that these didn't stop until Maisie's car was moving slower than a fast amble.
At journey's end, they didn't so much 'pull up' outside the women's hostel, as just come to a halt the second Maisie's foot stopped threatening the accelerator.
Once Magrat's breathing had returned to normal, and she could unclench her fingers, Maisie went through notes of the people they were going to see with her.
Some of the cases, most, in fact, were what any medically trained person would call business as usual.
A couple of them, however, even when couched in sanitised medical terminology, showed a disturbing story in the patient's recent past.
It was with quite a large degree of trepidation, therefore, that Magrat exited the car and followed Maisie towards the front door of the women's hostel.
Across the road, in the front garden of the men's hostel, the eyes of two of the residents watched the two nurses knock on the door.
Without taking his eyes off the women's building, one man tapped the other on the arm, prompting him to scoot indoors.