|Primary Characters:||Nigel, Harry|
|Warning:||violence, non-consenting m/m sex|
|Description:||Harry gets two new colleagues. They get along well. One day he discovers someone is stalking him, then he’s abducted. Can the police find him in time? And do they know who’s really responsible?|
Nigel sighed inaudibly. He’d been working double shifts at the morgue, to accommodate Jordan, who was off doing who knew what, most likely with Woody. The fatigue was only one reason for Nigel’s state of mind. Another was the thought of Jordan, or for that matter any available female who found Nigel ‘quaint’, ‘interesting’, ‘odd’, ‘weird’ or anything but attractive. But most of all he was sighing because his obnoxious acquaintance Paul had invited himself over to Nigel’s flat. No. Apartment, as they called it over here.
Since arriving in Boston, Nigel had made himself familiar with the clublife of the city. Goth clubs were his favorite, but tonight he’d had to go and pick one of the trendy upscale clubs uptown, which was oh so progressive and politically correct. Hence the amorous male who was breathing down Nigel’s aching neck. All he wanted was to shut the door on the uninvited guest, remove his clothes and drop down onto his bed and sleep like the poor bastards he’d been cutting open for sixteen hours straight. In fact, the clothes could stay on, as long as he got that much needed sleep.
But Paul had other plans. From the moment he’d walked in, he’d mixed himself a drink, without asking his host first, and begun to follow Nigel around. None of Nigel’s demonstrative yawns had produced any effect, and his patience was rapidly wearing out. If Paul didn’t take the hint soon, he’d just – But Paul, it seemed, was determined not to notice any of the subtle and not so subtle signs his host wasn’t in the mood for sex. Instead, he sat down so close to Nigel there was almost no room left to wiggle away. Which Nigel had tried twice already, in the past three minutes.
Paul’s hand now made its way inside Nigel’s shirt and the cool, damp fingers began to manipulate Nigel’s left nipple. Again, Nigel tried to pull away, but Paul simply slid across and continued with what he was doing.
Fed up with his guest, Nigel got to his feet abruptly, hoping to finally dislodge Paul’s hand and dispel his notion that Nigel was sexually available. In all fairness, Paul might be said to be acting in good faith. Even though Nigel had never encouraged Paul in any way, he had, under the influence of far more alcohol than he knew he could handle, participated in a threesome he’d much rather forget. On occasion, he had also – but since Paul didn’t know about those times, it could have no relevance for the current situation.
If he’d hoped to be rid of Paul by his action, Nigel was disappointed. Paul merely got up and followed him over to the window, where Nigel was pretending to study the cityscape outside.
To Nigel’s dismay, Paul was now rubbing his crotch against Nigel’s rear end. This really had gone on for long enough. Beyond worrying about getting a reputation as a snob or a stuck up Englishman, Nigel had made up his mind to throw Paul out, when they were interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing.
Hoping it would be dr Macy with some new bodies for him, Nigel eagerly strode over to the phone and picked it up.
The voice on the other end of the line wasn’t dr Macy’s, though in a way just as familiar. It brought back memories from – a time Nigel had done his best to suppress.
In a second, all the alcohol he’d consumed that night left his system and he no longer felt reluctant to get rid of Paul by any means he could find.
“Just a second, love.”
He held the receiver against his chest and nodded towards the front door.
Paul stared at him as in incomprehension.
“This is important. You need to go. Now.”
“Excuse me. What’s your problem? PMS? Who’s that Lydia anyway? Is it women now, Nige?”
Nigel winced. Only his closest friends were allowed to use that nickname. But as long as Paul left, he could believe what he wanted. Besides, he was far closer to the truth than he knew, at least about the second part of his monologue. Nigel preferred women. If he had a chance to choose. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem as if the women preferred him. But now Paul was leaving and he could focus on Lydia’s call.
“What were you doing, Nigel?”
“Just closing a window, love.”
“Oh. Nigel, it’s mum. You’ll need to get back right away. I’m flying over today. This morning. I’m just on my way to the airport.”
Nigel’s heart pounded uncomfortably loudly inside his chest. Mum. What could be wrong with her? He knew her health had been precarious for years, but somehow he’d never imagined –
“It’s something to do with her lungs. The asthma is getting worse and the doctor warned me that – well, it’s serious.”
“What did he say? An oedema?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s – ”
Nigel could almost see his sister biting her lower lip, frowning. It had been almost three years since he last saw her, but he couldn’t imagine her having changed a bit.
“I don’t think she’ll – I think it will be alright, but we have to be there.”
Nigel breathed out in relief. For a second, he’d imagined that Lydia was trying to tell him that their mother wasn’t going to make it. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be life threatening. At least he hoped not. Lydia wouldn’t know what was wrong. He’d have to ask his mother’s doctor about it.
“Alright, love. I’ll book a ticket right away. Oh, I’ll have to talk to dr Macy and ask – Right. See you soon then.”
Why did she have to thank him? It was his mother too, and he wasn’t the only one who had moved abroad – But now he needed to get going. He could always sleep on the plane. He threw a few garments into his sports bag and picked up the phone again. Dr Macy had gone, but Nigel left him a message. Just to be on the safe side, he also emailed Bug and Sidney and asked them to fill in for him, if necessary.
It turned out his mother’s condition wasn’t quite as bad as he’d feared. Lydia must have panicked when the doctor rang her. Despite everything, Nigel was pleased to have come. While his mother might not be at death’s door, she would need someone to look after her. If only Lydia hadn’t met that Australian and made her home down there.
The last thing Nigel wanted was to move back to England, but he realized that there was no one else who could take the responsibility. If he didn’t look after his mother no one would. He’d begun to consider Boston his home. His friends were there and – But his mother’s well being meant more to him than – his own. Somehow, he’d have to make do.
It pained him to see his mother so small, so fragile, lying there in the hospital bed. As he was studying her, she looked up and smiled.
“Nigel. You’re a good lad. But you didn’t have to come all this way just because I had a bit of a cold.”
“Never mind, mum. You’re getting better. That’s all that matters.”
“Let me look at you. You’ve lost weight, haven’t you? Are you eating enough? You look – pale. You’re working too much.”
“Don’t worry about me, mum. I’m fine.”
“If I could understand why you had to go so far away – and to stay so long. You’re not coming back, are you?”
Nigel swallowed hard. They’d had this conversation so many times before. Mostly on the telephone, but each time, he’d been hard put to find an answer that his mother could understand. One that he was willing to produce.
“Mum, I’m moving back home now. To keep an eye on you. Now that Lydia is -”
“Are you really coming home? But you were so happy over there. You shouldn’t have to leave your friends because of me. Mrs Digby can -”
“It’s alright. Perhaps it was time for me to come – home.”
But it was Boston that was home. No. He could make his home anywhere. As long as –
“Where’s uncle Clive?”
His mother smiled warmly at him at the mention of her brother’s name.
“The two of you were always so close. It was such a relief to me. With your father gone and me on my own. It’s not right. A boy needs his father. He’s so proud of you, do you know that?”
“Ah, yes. I know.”
He was hoping his mother wouldn’t make anything of his tone of voice.
But it seemed she hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.
“Oh, he’s abroad. Since his retirement, he likes to travel. Our weather isn’t good for a man his age. He’s in Malaysia, I think. Or – Vietnam. I don’t recall. Perhaps it was Cambodia.”
South East Asia. For some reason, Nigel didn’t think it was the climate that appealed to Clive, but he couldn’t share his insight with his mother.
“I see. When will he be back?”
“Oh, not until the summer, I should think.”
Nigel nodded. At least he wouldn’t have to face the old man just yet. He’d have time to find a new job and a new place to stay. Not at his mother’s. There wasn’t room enough for him, and besides – that house would only bring back memories, memories that needed to stay buried, if he was going to be able to pull this off.
It turned out to be almost too easy. The job seemed to fall into his lap with no effort at all. Apparently, his qualifications were exactly what they were looking for. And he’d be going back to his old uni. At least he had good memories from there. if only he hadn’t walked out on Sandra – But Sandra would be long gone. There would be no reason to think he’d be stumbling across her. She’d be set up in practice somewhere far away.
Dr Leo Dalton walked into his superior’s office, smiling. Apparently, Sam had some news for him. He looked around for his young colleague Harry Cunningham, but couldn’t see the lad anywhere. Perhaps Sam would tell him anyway.
“Good morning. You had some news for us -”
She was smiling too, so apparently it was good news.
“Yes. Remember how we were trying to get the board of directors to let us focus more on the technical aspects of the work? Like in America?”
“I remember. So, did we get more funding for the lab?”
“In a way. We were able to get an expert. From America. Well, apparently he studied here, then continued his studies over there. He’s been doing research for some years now, in Boston. At the Medical Examiner’s Office.”
“Expert on what?”
“Forensic medicine. It seems he’s quite a computer genius too. And familiar with all the latest technology in the field.”
“I’m not sure I – Is he a doctor – a pathologist?”
“Yes, but one who is very proficient in the use of all that fancy machinery.”
“I see. So when do we get to meet the great man? I thought we’d just get another pathologist.”
“We are getting a new pathologist too. Well, not so new, perhaps. It’s an older man, who worked as a GP up north.”
“A GP? Why would he want to switch to this? An older man?”
“I should say he’s in his mid to late fifties. Hold on. I have his file here somewhere.”
Professor Ryan vaguely pointed towards the files on her desktop.
In the meantime, Harry had finally arrived at work, out of breath and slightly late. That morning had been a minor disaster. His mother was away visiting a friend and he’d promised he’d look after the house. Then in the morning, the alarm hadn’t rung and he’d woken up nearly forty minutes too late. He rushed into the lobby without looking where he was going and bumped into another man who was hurrying in the same direction.
The tall stranger smiled, turned left and vanished from Harry’s sight. Too busy to pay much attention, Harry ran towards the morgue. He should already have been changed and ready to perform a post mortem on a victim of a fire. Remembering that Professor Ryan had asked him to look into her office before work, he caught himself and veered off in the right direction. There he again bumped into the same stranger he had collided with in the lobby.
“Excuse me. Can I help you?”
“I hope so. I’m looking for Professor Samantha Ryan’s office.”
“Oh. I’m going there too. This way.”
Outside Professor Ryan’s office, the stranger faced Harry and held out his hand. Harry shook it, wondering who this might be. He had no idea who this visitor was. Was he here to identify a body?
“I’m Nigel. Nice to meet you.”
Puzzled, Harry smiled and nodded.
“Harry. Nice to meet you.”
He couldn’t think of any way to ask who this Nigel really was, so he merely nodded again.
Professor Ryan’s door swung open and Leo looked outside.
“There you are. Sam was asking about you -”
“Sorry. I overslept.”
Hearing the familiar voice outside, Sam decided to meet Harry out there. If she recalled correctly, according to his schedule he should have been working on fire victim nr three right now.
“Harry – Oh. You’ve met Dr Townsend already. Hold on, Leo. Here is Dr Townsend now.”
Leo came back and in his turn shook the new arrival’s hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Dr Townsend. I’ve heard a lot of interesting things about you.”
“Nigel. I’m Leo. And I see you’ve met Harry.”
“Yes, we bumped into each other just now. Literally.”
“So we did. If you’ll excuse me. I’m late for a post mortem. See you later.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll walk with you and take a look around the place. And – if it’s alright with you, I might watch your autopsy too. To get a feel for things.”
There was a certain touch of the USA about the new doctor, Harry thought. Wasn’t there even a hint of an accent? But there was also something pleasant and open about him, which made Harry like him from the start. Despite the odd hairdo and the – informal clothes.
In the weeks to come, Harry and Nigel got along well and found themselves spending quite a bit of time together. They found they had a lot in common, though fortunately, Harry’s mother wasn’t in ill health. While Nigel’s father was still alive, they weren’t close, so in a way, it was as if he too had grown up without a father.
A few days after Nigel’s arrival, the other new doctor showed up. He was a tall, but rotund man in his late fifties, with a large beard, giving him a Father Christmas look. His loud, booming voice and laughter completed the image. He made a point of being polite and accommodating towards all his new colleagues, always willing to switch shifts with anyone who asked. It turned out he was a widower, with no children and when his wife had passed away, he had decided to move south.
He gave no explanation for his choice of position, though being a pathologist had to be rather different from being a GP.
Having promised to pick up a book at the library, Harry remembered to look in just before closing time. He’d been forced to make a run for it, but he made it with seven minutes to spare. It was an unpleasant night, and the rain was pouring down, so he didn’t look forward to making his way home that evening. The book was available, so he merely had to check it out. As he was waiting his turn, he couldn’t help noticing a girl who was standing in the other line, waiting to return a pile of books.
He glanced across the backs of the books, curious about what titles she’d been interested in. They were an odd assortment. One appeared to be a book about philosophy, dealing with animal rights. Another was a book of ancient Egyptian art. The others were fiction, either fantasy or mysteries. He was wondering if she’d been picking up books for her entire family or a number of room mates, when, suddenly she turned and caught his gaze. She returned the interest by staring slightly bemusedly at his book about knitting patterns. Harry felt his face flush under her perusal. Knitting patterns.
Her smile transformed her face, which until now, had appeared stern or sombre. Watching the girl made him miss his turn and the librarian made a sharp remark about wasting other people’s time. While he dealt with that, the girl got rid of her books and vanished into the rain. Harry hurried outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of her and he thought he recognized her retreating back in the gloom but couldn’t be sure.
Next morning he was assigned a new body. A woman who might have been murdered. The course of the investigation gave him the opportunity of working closely alongside of his new colleague, Dr Nigel Townsend.
No one in the office could remain unimpressed by Nigel’s seemingly endless knowledge of obscure subjects. Surprisingly many of his insights led to new discoveries. It wasn’t unusual for Nigel to be working inside a circle of curious onlookers. The new machines were no less impressive. Even so, Harry never lost sight of the person behind the puzzle.
And in the end, they solved the case. The woman’s husband had killed her, hoping to collect her life insurance. As simple and as petty as that.
Dr Randall did his best to fit into the team and was able to settle in quite well, even from the first couple of weeks.
On Thursday, Nigel and Harry were so engrossed in a fascinating discussion about famous historic murder cases, they had lunch together to continue uninterrupted.
Walking out through the foyer, they ran into Dr Randall, who offered to take them both out to lunch. They saw no reason to decline so all three of them walked to the Italian restaurant across the street.
It turned out Dr Randall knew more than either of them about both famous 20 century cases and earlier ones. What was more, he offered interesting psychological theories concerning many of the murderers and their victims. Theories, which neither Nigel or Harry agreed with, but which were fascinating all the same.
Afterwards, Dr Randall excused himself and walked away in the opposite direction. Nigel and Harry continued on back towards the campus area. They found themselves in the middle of a group of students, who were half running to avoid the sudden drenching downpour of rain. Harry caught sight of the girl from the other night. Her hair was plastered to her head, and she had a look of fierce concentration on her face, but he couldn’t help feeling a certain interest in her. There was something – unusual about her. Perhaps a little mysterious.
He pointed her out to Nigel who agreed that there was an intriguing air about her. To Harry’s amusement, Nigel went on to recount an imaginative theory of the girl’s background, her subject and family conditions.
“Are you seeing someone, Nigel?”
This produced a rueful lopsided grin.
“Not really. What about you?”
“Perhaps this girl -”
“She’s a student. I don’t think it would be ethical for me to go out with her, even if -”
“Slow down a bit. Alright, she’s a student, but didn’t you notice that she’s quite a bit older than the other girls? I’d say at least 25. Besides, you’re not her tutor. I doubt if anyone would object.”
“Perhaps you’re right. But it’s all nonsense anyway. I’m sure I’ll never see her again.”
“You never know. That reminds me. How about a pub round? Friday night? If you don’t have anything better to do?”
“No, I’m free. Alright. I’d love to.”
“And if you see that girl, why don’t you invite her? Perhaps she has a friend.”
Harry smiled and shook his head. Nigel really had a funny way of making up amusing little fantasies. An imaginative bloke, that was obvious. But it was pleasant to have someone to talk to who was closer to his own age. He could hardly go out with Sam and Leo had his family. It was a bit early in life to sit at home chatting with his mum every Friday or Saturday night. Besides, considering how active his mum was, he’d be spending those evenings alone.
They had a marvellous time on Friday night and though Harry obviously hadn’t been able to invite the girl to come along, he did see her at the pub, sitting with a group of friends. It didn’t look as if she was enjoying herself very much. Nigel caught his look and nodded towards the girl’s table.
“Go on then. Buy her a pint or whatever she’s having. You’ll never get a better chance.”
Slightly startled, Harry turned to look at his new friend wonderingly.
“Is that how you do things in America?”
“That’s how people do it everywhere, my friend. Besides, I’ve had years of practice.”
“Of buying girls drinks?”
An amused grin was playing on Harry’s lips.
“Of offering to buy girls drinks. I never said I was successful. Don’t let that stop you.”
“Oh, alright. Why not? The worst thing that could happen is that she’ll say no.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Nigel put his hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing it encouragingly.
Awkwardly, Harry walked over to the girls’ table. Of course he’d done this before, while still in college, but he’d never been much of a success and this time, he felt even more at a disadvantage. The girl might not be that much younger than he was, but she was still a student. He wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. Besides, if Nigel hadn’t been more successful, how could he expect to be?
Feeling like a bit of a fool, Harry caught the girl’s eye and smiled.
“Excuse me. I was wondering if you’d let me buy you a drink?”
“Oh, it’s you. Did you enjoy your book?”
Harry’s face heated up and wished he hadn’t made the attempt. She was laughing at him.
“The book wasn’t for me. It was for -”
“Alright. Did your girlfriend enjoy it?”
Her amused grin told him she was merely humoring him. He didn’t think she actually believed he had borrowed the book for himself, but she was going to act as if she did.
“Oh, well, it wasn’t for my girlfriend. it was for my mother.”
By now, Harry had all but lost his enthusiasm for the whole thing. He wished he was back at his own table, with Nigel, having a pint or two.
Suddenly, the girl’s mood changed and her amusement vanished.
“I’m sorry. How awful of me to be laughing at you like that. How about this? You join me here, but I pay for my own drink?”
“Alright, why not?”
He could hardly believe his luck. While the girl was ordering her drink, he looked back at Nigel who was looking rather forlorn on his own over by the other wall.
Three of the girls got to their feet and in a flurry of goodbyes, they left, leaving the table in silence. Only one other girl – or rather woman – remained. She was black and very pretty though perhaps a bit too – forceful – for Harry’s taste.
The girl who had invited him to sit down made eye contact with him and smiled faintly.
“Nice to meet you – uh – I don’t know your name.”
“I’m sorry. Harry. Harry Cunningham.”
“Hello, Harry. I’m Jess Riley.”
“Nice to meet you, Jess.”
“I hope your mother enjoyed her book.”
“What? Oh, that book. Yes. I’m sure she did. She’s interested in so many things, I sometimes have a hard time keeping up. You seem to be interested in quite a lot too, at least judging by your choice of books. Or were they for someone else too?”
“No, they were for me. I’m a student of art history. And, well, I enjoy reading fiction to unwind. I also work part time in a book shop.”
“When I have time, I like to read too.”
“Yes. Historic novels, mysteries too. And fantasy. Science fiction. All kinds really.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. This is my friend Sandra. And – did you come in with a friend too?”
“Oh, yes. Nice to meet you, Sandra.”
“Perhaps we should ask your friend to join us? Unless you mind, Sandra? What do you think? Would you like Harry’s friend to join us?”
Sandra fixed Harry with a slightly unnerving stare, then moved on to glance at Nigel, who was just putting down his third pint. Something seemed to strike her and Harry was wondering what it was, when Sandra pushed back her chair and stalked across to Nigel’s table without a word of explanation or excuse.
Harry glanced inquiringly at Jess, who shrugged. Apparently she was used to her friend’s ways.
Sandra was talking to Nigel, but with the level of noise in the room, they couldn’t hear a word she said. It was odd, but Harry got the distinct impression that Sandra knew Nigel from somewhere. But how could that be? Nigel had just spent some years in Boston and before that, he had been in the Navy. Then Harry recalled that Nigel had been a student at the uni, several years earlier. Could Sandra be an old acquaintance, friend, what? But for the time being, he knew he wouldn’t learn more about Sandra’s odd behaviour and he found that he would much rather take the time to get to know Jess better.
The last sip of beer came down the wrong way and Nigel began to cough and sputter. Sandra placed her hand on his back and rubbed it gently.
“Hey. Take it easy. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I – I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t mind me. My patients have been known to spew out all kinds of muck from both ends. I’m not squeamish.”
“I meant – oh. So you’re a vet now?”
“Yes. And you’re a doctor? Is your friend one too?”
“What? Oh. Harry. Yes. In a way. We’re pathologists.”
“I wonder if Jess knows that.”
“Jess? Oh, your friend. I shouldn’t think so. This is probably the first time Harry’s had a chance to speak to her.”
“I see. Perhaps he shouldn’t expect too much.”
“Oh, it’s just a guess. Never mind. How are you doing, Nigel?”
“Where have you been all these years? Wait, I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just curious. What have you been up to?”
“I – joined the Navy.”
Sandra laughed explosively.
“You’re not serious?”
“Yes. It’s true. I joined the Navy and then afterwards, I continued my studies in America.”
“You, in the Navy? And America? What on earth for?”
“Hold on. Want another pint?”
“Why not? But let me pay.”
Sandra shrugged and gave in, but Nigel wasn’t fooled by her uncharacteristic behaviour.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. But you have to admit, it was a little – unexpected. You taking off like that. I still have most of your things packed up in a trunk.”
Nigel sighed. How could he ever explain to her why he’d had to leave so abruptly? Even if he could have told her, he knew he should have come back one last time and tried to – He knew he owed her better than leaving her without a word of warning.
“You even took your t-shirt back. The one you’d given me, to sleep in.”
She smiled to rob her words of any hint of an accusation.
That t-shirt. It was one of the few belongings he still held on to from – another lifetime. To begin with, he’d worn it to remind him of her. Back then, it had still held a hint of her smell, if that wasn’t just wishful thinking. He’d held off washing it until he couldn’t wait any longer. But even after that, it had been a reminder of her. Painful at times, but one he didn’t want to do without.
“I’m sorry about that too. Unforgivable of me. I’ll buy you another one.”
“Tell me all about it. What was it like? The Navy. You, of all people. I never would have thought -”
“Well, my grandfather was in the Navy and so was my father, so it was more or less taken for granted that I would join too.”
“But you – how could you stand all the – obeying orders and so on. I know I could never put up with it for even a few days, let alone – how long were you there?”
“And then you went to America.”
He told her a few things about med school and about working for the ME’s office in Boston. As he related his experiences since leaving England, he got the odd impression that none of it had been real. Already, England and the old uni and Sandra were becoming more real to him. Meeting her again seemed like a dream come true. And she didn’t even seem too upset with him.
Why wasn’t she more angry? A thought struck him, accompanied by a stab of pain. Didn’t she care anymore because she was married? Did she have a family now? A family of her own. Nigel knew she had a mother and several sisters as well as a younger brother. They had seemed like a close family, a happy family. But what did he know? There must have been people who had seen his family life as a happy one too. He had worked hard to give that impression.
He glanced surreptitiously at her hands, hoping to find a clue there. She followed his gaze and dazzled him with a big grin. He should have known that her brilliant and intuitive mind would have leapt ahead of him. Feeling a slow, hot flush creep across his face, Nigel could only smile sheepishly and say nothing.
“Why don’t you ask me? If you really want to know so badly? Go on then. You know I don’t bite. Much.”
He couldn’t help smiling again, more sincerely this time, as he began to recall more and more about their brief time together. How was it that some nine months of his life, more than ten years ago could mean more to him than everything that had happened since or before? It had nothing to do with the fact that he hadn’t had one single relationship worth the name in all that time.
“Alright. Are you married – or something?”
“Something? Did you think I’d gone and become a nun?”
“I meant -”
“I know what you meant. No. I’m not married. What about you?”
“Not in all this time?”
“Oh. I don’t know if you remember Isaac Lefebre?”
“I think – the rastaman?”
“That’s the one.”
“What about him?”
“We almost got married. But I – I don’t know. He was just too – dominant. You know me. I’m a pushy old cow. Can’t stand to be bossed around by any man.”
Somehow, this meeting had made Nigel cheer up immensely. Seeing Sandra again. Her unexpected – acceptance of his absence and finding out that she was still single – it all made him look forward to settling in again, despite everything. After all, he told himself, now things would be different. He was a grown man now. Whatever happened, he wouldn’t let anything get him down.
Next morning at work, Nigel had a pensive look on his face and he seemed to have a lot on his mind. He didn’t ask Harry anything about his meeting with Jess. Not that day anyway. It wasn’t until some time next week that he recalled Sandra’s warning that Jess might not be too thrilled with Harry’s profession, for some reason. Which was odd, if Sandra, who was a veterinarian, was her friend. What difference was there, really, between a human doctor and one that dedicated her work to animals?
In the end he decided he didn’t have the heart to disappoint Harry. Perhaps Sandra was worrying needlessly, and in any case there were no guarantees Harry and Jess would get very far, even before Harry’s job came up. Nigel did ask Harry how things were going and judging by his reply, it seemed he had nothing to complain of so far.
Twice that week, Nigel asked Harry out to lunch, only to find that he’d left already in the company of Dr Randall. Once, Nigel heard that Harry had been out to dinner with Dr Randall and later on, he’d been invited over for a drink at the older doctor’s house. One Sunday, all the pathologists were invited over for what might have passed as a cocktail party, had the guests been more numerous, but all in all, it did seem as if Dr Randall was singling out Harry for attention.
Nigel concluded that perhaps it wasn’t such a mystery. Harry, having lost his own father at a very young age must have been starving for some more experienced mentor. Come to think of it, Nigel himself might have enjoyed some fatherly advice, if he hadn’t had enough of the kind of paternal attention his own uncle had bestowed on him.
They were literally up to their elbows in work, which wasn’t unusual for that time of year. It was October and the icy fog which settled down low over the houses in the poorer neighbourhoods seemed to get into the lungs of the elderly and poorly. In a three week period, they had seven OAP:s come in, one after the other, including a couple who had expired virtually on the same night. Perhaps the shock of finding his wife dead, had speeded the old man on his way, but the state of his lungs made it clear that it had only been a matter of time before he passed away.
This made Nigel pay even closer attention to his own mum, who fortunately lived up on the hill and enjoyed a much healthier air. Even when he was as busy as ever, he managed to stay in touch with Sandra. They still hadn’t made a move to take up their old relationship, but they got along well, just like they had in the past, before Nigel had moved in with her.
The speed with which he’d moved on from dating to moving into Sandra’s flat had surprised both his mother and hers, but until he’d packed up his belongings and joined the Navy, things had been fine between them. More than fine, in fact.
Sandra must have wondered why, but even now, she never even hinted that she was curious to know the answer to her question.
After an entire building out in some of the estates had burned to the ground, due to arson, the whole team had been working overtime for better part of a week. Even Sam had done her share of post mortems and no one had had any time for a personal life in those days. At times, it felt as if they were sleeping on their feet, snatching a few moments of rest wherever they could, whenever they could.
When the worst was over, they sank down on a bench in the locker room, too tired to even get dressed and go home. It must have been past midnight, but they’d all but lost track of time.
Harry was the first to get to his feet and begin to rummage around in his locker to find his clothes. He found his t-shirt and for a moment, he stood shivering in his shorts and socks, while he pulled the t-shirt over his head, then returned inside the locker for a renewed search. His hand found the pair of jeans and he was about to put them on, when he discovered that his wallet was missing. He reached inside the locker again, and pulled out a red, knitted sweater and absently put it on. The wallet didn’t seem to be there.
He looked around the room, wondering if he might have forgotten to put it inside with his clothes when he changed – how long ago was that anyway? It seemed like an eternity. He was so tired, he would gladly have stretched out on the bench or the floor even, if he hadn’t known his mother would worry about him, if he didn’t return home.
“Nigel? Have you seen my wallet?”
Nigel appeared to be half asleep.
“Oh, nothing. I just can’t find it.”
Nigel’s reply came slowly, as if his mind was only half focusing on his colleague and what he was saying.
Harry pulled out everything inside the locker, finding a number of not so clean socks and another t-shirt, but failed to find the wallet or the spare pair of shorts he was sure he’d left there. When it was all empty, he looked inside again. There did seem to be something else, after all. Something white. He reached inside and found a sheet of paper. It looked like a computer printout. He was about to crumple it up and throw it away, thinking it one of the meaningless newsletters from the board of directors, if it wasn’t merely some commercial offer from the new pizza place down the street.
One of the words caught his eye and, not quite believing what he saw, Harry began to read the short message. It seemed to be – yes, what was it anyway? Whatever it was was filled with four letter words, and the meaning was grossly indecent, to put it mildly. And it did seem to be addressed to him. He now saw his name above the letter, if that was what it was.
By now, Nigel had gathered up enough energy to get to his feet and begin to look for his own clothes. He wasn’t paying attention to Harry, but now he recalled something about a missing wallet.
“Did you find it?”
“Oh. No. I didn’t.”
Something about Harry’s voice seemed to filter through to Nigel and he looked across at his friend.
“I don’t know.”
Harry shook his head in disbelief. He didn’t know what to make of it. In fact, his face was taking on a hint of colour, despite his exhaustion. Who could have sent him this – letter?
“See for yourself. It’s – I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Nigel walked across to Harry and began reading it over his shoulder. He too felt embarrassed, to say the least, to read something so – dirty. Anyone who knew him in Boston would say that Nigel wasn’t exactly some innocent boy from the country, but this –
“Oh. You’re right. Not the kind of thing you see every day. D’you have any idea who might have sent it to you? Any secret admirers?”
“If there is anyone, it’s someone so secret I don’t know about her.”
After a stunned pause, Harry added something, as an afterthought.
“At least I hope it’s a she.”
Nigel thought about it and nodded. Indeed. Even if the person who had sent this seemed to be – mentally unstable – it was to be hoped that it was a female. The things she wanted to do to Harry would be disconcerting enough if it was. If the letter writer was male – Nigel swallowed nervously.
“Yes. You know, I think this is from someone who isn’t – quite right in the head. Perhaps you should call the police. That phrase there – reads awfully like a threat.”
He was pointing towards the last sentence. It specified exactly what the letter writer wanted to do to Harry if he failed to agree to the – proposition in the letter.
Harry considered his friend’s advice. On the one hand, by now he was feeling concerned, on the other – would he really like someone from the police to read the letter and consider him in connection with something like that, with someone who was capable of thinking of such a thing and to not only type it out, but also send it to someone?
“Do you really think that’s necessary? It’s probably just a student’s prank -”
Nigel placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder, to reassure his friend, a grave look on his usually smiling face.
“I don’t want to alarm you, but – I have some experience working with the police in Boston and – well, I really think you should call the police. If it turns out to be just a student’s prank – then all the better. But you know, better safe than sorry.”
Again, Harry hesitated. Perhaps Nigel was right. It might be best to turn the letter over to someone professional. Someone who would know what to do.
“I suppose I have to. Thanks. We’re lucky to have you here. With all your experience. Besides, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Glad to be of help.”
The police, however, seemed more inclined to believe the student prank idea. In any case, they suggested that Harry wait and see. The middle aged uniformed policeman who had responded to Harry’s call, didn’t appear to be too concerned.
For a while, Harry thought perhaps he’d overreacted. As the holiday season approached, they finally experienced a lull in their work. It was as if everyone was too busy to die. Most of them anyway. They still had a few victims of accidents sent in. A few men stabbed in bar brawls. A teenager who had committed suicide by hanging. In mid-November, they received the remains of a man who appeared to have died in the last century and not been missed until nearly three years later. But all in all, they had time to catch up on their paper work.
One day, as Harry sat at his desk, he saw the email icon flash and he clicked it to read the new email. Five minutes later he was still sitting there, staring at the screen as if transfixed. This time, the message was accompanied by a very graphic image. The image depicted a young man being – suffice it to say that he was the center of attention from no less than four other males, in a way that made Harry distinctly uncomfortable.
Dr Leo Dalton turned his chair around, intending to ask Harry to borrow a paper clip, when he noticed something out of the ordinary in his young colleague’s posture. He got up and took a look for himself at the computer screen and started violently. Ouch. He hadn’t wanted to to consider that particular activity possible, but here he had the evidence in startling clarity. After a moment of shocked silence he took another look at Harry who looked about the same as Leo was feeling. Stunned. Shocked. Disgusted.
“I hesitate to ask, but where did you get that?”
“I don’t know. It was in an email.”
Harry pointed feebly towards the screen.
“An email? From whom?”
“I don’t know.”
By now, Nigel had noticed something was going on and he got to his feet, lithe as a cat.
“You alright, Harry?”
“I just received this.”
Nigel hunched over to see the image more clearly and pulled back violently.
“Is that from the same – “‘
“I suppose so.”
Nigel put out his hand and began scrolling up again, to see the content of the email and the sender.
The wording in the email was similar to the one in the computer printout, but this time the sender promised to subject Harry to a treatment even more painful and degrading. Nigel’s trained eye scanned the email header for information about the sender. Nothing. He changed the settings to reveal a more detailed header and still failed to find any sender ID. His frown deepened.
“It’s anonymous. Same person again, I think. You have to call the police, Harry.”
Leo looked from Harry to Nigel and back again.
“What’s going on?”
Nigel’s gaze locked on to Harry’s as if to get his permission to inform Leo, but it seemed Harry was too stunned to react. After a moment’s hesitation, Nigel decided Leo and Sam would need to know. This concerned a colleague of theirs and if Harry’s safety was at stake, they would all need to be kept informed.
“I think Harry’s got a stalker. At least someone is sending him – threatening letters. A letter and an email so far. Unless you’ve received anything more that I haven’t heard of?”
No reply. Harry appeared to be deep in thought.
“Harry. Have you had any more letters or emails, like this? Since the one you found in your locker?”
“Nothing delivered to your home address? Or sent to your private email address?”
“No. But now that you mention it, there were a few odd phone calls in the past week or so.”
“Odd in what way?”
“No one seemed to be there. At least they didn’t say anything. But it was a while until the call was disconnected. As if someone was listening to me.”
At this Nigel could see a shudder pass over his friend.
Dr Dalton appeared to come to a decision.
“You call the police, Harry. I’ll see if I can catch Sam before she leaves. She’ll need to know about this.”
This time, the police appeared to be a little more inclined to take the matter seriously. The uniformed policeman who arrived within half an hour, took one look at the image attached to the email and made a face as if he’d stepped in something long dead.
“Bloody hell. What a – And you have no idea who might have sent it to you? You’re a doctor, is that right? Isn’t it true that medical students sometimes – well, get up to some pretty mad capers sometimes?”
At this, he glanced around the room, taking in everyone there, except for Sam, who was standing some distance away, looking as if she was still processing the information.
As before, Harry appeared too dazed to respond immediately, to the policeman’s question.
Leo Dalton pulled himself up and faced the man squarely.
“Perhaps. But Harry isn’t a student anymore. And besides, there’s a message. One that could be construed as definitely threatening. Of course I don’t know all Harry’s friends, but I seriously doubt any doctor would send such a message.”
The policeman didn’t look convinced. He shook his head disbelievingly.
“Oh, you’d be surprised.”
Now Nigel couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
“Did you search the first letter for finger prints?”
“Yes. Were you the other doctor on the scene, when the letter was found?”
“Yes. I was there.”
“Well, we determined that your finger prints weren’t on it. There weren’t any, except for your friend’s.”
There was a brief pause while the policeman managed to recall Harry’s name.
“Dr Cunningham. So whoever was responsible, must have made sure he didn’t leave any prints.”
“I see. Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? In any case, this email – it’s anonymous.”
“Which computer did you find it on?”
He was addressing Harry, who made a visible effort to pull himself together.
“The one over there. It’s the one I use.”
“Right. We’ll have a forensics team remove the hard drive and have it analyzed. And we’ll have to check your network files too. Even if it looks anonymous to the naked eye, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find out who sent it.”
Nigel had a feeling the policeman didn’t know as much about computer records as he wanted to imply.
“I’m afraid it might be. There’s software making it at least close to impossible to trace anonymous emails. Of course, the FBI and the CIA -”
“Hold on a bit. Who are you? And what makes you such an expert? I thought you were a doctor?”
Now Sam cleared her voice.
“Dr Townsend has just returned from the United States where he was working for the Boston Medical Examiner’s office. I think you’ll find that he does know quite a bit about the latest forensics technology.”
The uniformed policeman looked as if he wasn’t too impressed with any of that new-fangled nonsense, but he kept his comments to himself. In any case, a plainclothes officer arrived shortly, and he took charge of the case. The man looked familiar, and when he introduced himself, Sam recalled the time when they’d worked together to solve a criminal case. Detective Inspector Roy Pereira, appeared more impassive when faced with the hardcore porn image in the email, but from the start he seemed to realize the seriousness of the case.
“Dr Cunningham. I have to ask you, do you have any idea who might have sent these messages to you? Or made those phone calls you mentioned, if those are connected.”
“No. I have no idea.”
“Oh, come on. Surely you must have some idea? For instance, could it be some disgruntled next of kin, who might hold a grudge against you, Dr Cunningham?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Professor Ryan, Dr Dalton – sorry, I seem to have missed your name – Dr -?”
“Townsend. Nigel Townsend.”
“Thank you. Did any of you receive anything similar lately? Anyone?”
Everyone denied that and after considering each of them in turn, DI Pereira moved on with his investigation.
“Just in case, I’ll need a list of every doctor or other employee who works here. We’ll have someone take their statements. For now, I’d just like to know if anyone has any relevant information to offer.”
When no one admitted to having any information concerning the case, DI Pereira asked to speak to Harry alone.
“Dr Cunningham – in the past – say three months or so – have you met someone new, in your personal life? For instance – are you married?”
“Engaged? Living with someone?”
“Dating someone seriously?”
Harry hesitated. He had been seeing Jess off and on, but it could hardly be said that he was dating her seriously. Not dating at all, frankly, since their last – difference of opinion – concerning his profession. It had come as a shock, when the look on her face had turned to one of revulsion after she learned what he did for a living.
He could still recall his astonishment, followed by disappointment.
The full impact of her reaction still hadn’t had time to sink in and he’d opened his mouth, foolishly to ask her the reason for her sudden change of demeanour.
“You’re a doctor?”
“Yes. What’s the problem?”
“You know I’m involved in animal rights work?”
Yes, he knew that. He’d come with her to a demonstration. Helped her fold up fliers for one of their rallies.
She appeared ill at ease, as if she was considering whether to say what was on her mind or not.
“Harry – I’m sorry. I don’t think we can see each other again.”
“It’s nothing personal. I just didn’t have any idea – You never said. I mean, I knew you were something to do with the uni, but I suppose I assumed you were a lecturer or that you held some administrative position.”
“But, Jess, I don’t see why my profession should have anything to do with anything.”
He could see that she appeared genuinely upset, not merely with him, but also, it seemed, at the prospect of turning him away. That cheered him slightly and he still didn’t think there was a serious problem. Whatever her reason for not appreciating doctors, surely she could see that he was on her side?
“During your studies, didn’t you – do animal experiments? Perform vivisection? Oh, I really don’t want to have this conversation. It’s my fault. I should have asked a lot sooner. It just didn’t occur to me.”
“Hold on a second. I didn’t do any animal experiments and certainly no vivisection. We weren’t required to, so I didn’t. I’ve dissected dead animals, as well as people, but I didn’t kill those animals anymore than I killed the people.”
“Those animals were killed for a purpose and – You didn’t?”
For a second, it appeared as if she was going to relent, and Harry seized on that chance eagerly.
“No. I didn’t. The first time – I ran out of the room and threw up. I never touched that rat and – after that, I joined the three other students who refused to touch any live animals. We had to send in applications, in writing and some of the professors didn’t take too kindly to it, but they were required to let us continue our studies anyway.”
“Oh. But you must – I mean, how do you feel about animal experiments? No, wait, I think perhaps I don’t want to know. ”
Harry hesitated. In the past, he had purposefully avoided coming to any conclusion about that particular trick question. He knew what his father would have had to say on the matter. How people naturally had to come first. But he had grown up in a different time, and though he’d never had the time or the inclination to get involved actively in the animal rights movements, he thought he had arrived at a conclusion in that area, whether consciously or not. Was it right to sacrifice another living creature for the sake of another? Perhaps. But was it necessary? Or even advisable for other reasons?
“I don’t agree with the necessity for most of them in any case. Certainly not when it comes to cosmetics, but frankly, not when it comes to medical research either. Partly for ethical reasons, but partly for medical reasons.”
“There are several examples of medication which wasn’t harmful to animals but turned out to have negative effects on humans. The same is true for certain surgical techniques.”
“I know about that. I’m just surprised that a doctor – Sorry. Really. I apologize for jumping for conclusions.”
“Then we’re alright? You and I, I mean?”
Again, he could see that she was hesitating. What could be wrong now?
“I don’t know. Harry, I’m sorry, but I don’t think – what is it that you do, exactly?”
“I’m a pathologist. I perform post mortems on people to find out the cause of death.”
“You cut up dead bodies and dig around inside them?”
Her tone of voice hinted that she found this highly revolting. The realization of how she felt about his work and probably about himself or at least his hands, which did that work, hit him. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. What he did would make most people uncomfortable. But surely they meant enough to each other by now, for her to see beyond the details of his work? Didn’t he mean a little more than that to her?
“Yes. That’s the only way to find the cause of death, most of the time. I wear gloves. It’s not as if we touch them with our bare hands.”
He could see that this made some impression on her, and he could see that she was struggling with herself. Perhaps if he let her work it out for herself, think it through and come to some kind of conclusion. He was still hoping she’d be able to get used to the idea, after some reflection, but he had a bad feeling about it. She didn’t seem all that relieved. For some reason, she just couldn’t seem to get over her revulsion.
And he hadn’t heard from her since. They’d run into each other around campus and she always smiled and nodded or said hello, but he could tell that she was reluctant to get involved in a conversation.
DI Pereira’s voice cut through his reflections and recalled him to the present.
“Sorry. You were saying?”
“You have been seeing someone in the past couple of months, haven’t you? What did you think of just now? You are remembering something, aren’t you?”
Harry hesitated. Of course Jess couldn’t be behind the disturbing messages. The very idea was absurd. But he could see how a policeman might interpret things differently. He really didn’t want to drag Jess into any of it, so he decided to make light of their involvement, slight as it was, in retrospect, at least in terms of physical contact.
“Not really. I was just trying to recall. Of course I go out a bit. To pubs and so on. And naturally I meet people. But there’s no one that springs to mind. No one in particular.”
Pereira digested this information briefly, then seemed to let the matter go, or at least to some extent.
“I see. Well, considering what sort of image you received, I have to ask you if you normally date women or men, Dr Cunningham? Or both maybe?”
Harry blushed a deep, brick red. Of course he’d suspected it would come to this, but he hadn’t been prepared for such a direct question.
“Women. Just women.”
“I see. Well, I had to ask. And you can’t think of anyone who might hold a grudge against you, privately or professionally?”
“I’m afraid not. As far as I know, I haven’t offended anyone.”
“Right. That’s all for now. I’ll be in touch later. In the meantime, I’d avoid going to any pubs, if I were you. And if anyone should call or email or you receive any suspicious notes, let me know right away. Here. Take my card.”
“Thank you, Detective Inspector. I will.”
After that interview with Detective Inspector Pereira, Harry felt that the whole affair had entered a new phase. One that was even more terrifying than the vague feeling of menace he’d experienced earlier. And from then on, Harry kept having an unnerving feeling of being watched. Not every moment of every day, but certainly almost every day.
For a while, no new messages arrived, but Harry became of aware of missing a few belongings. Objects he’d hardly given a second thought, but now that he was more alert, he realized some minor possessions were gone. A pair or shorts. For several hours, he was unable to find his keys, but they later reappeared, on the floor by his locker.
And so the odd phone calls returned. When he picked up, he thought he could hear someone breathing, but no one said anything. According to DI Pereira, the calls couldn’t be traced with any certainty, but it appeared some of them were made from a phone booth in the neighbourhood. At least one of the others had been made from an unregistered mobile phone account.
DI Pereira continued his investigation and early on, Jess caught his interest. He returned to question Harry further concerning his relations with the student. To Harry, the mere idea that Jess could be responsible for the series of events, was ludicrous, and he said so.
DI Pereira nodded politely and pointed out what he considered suspicious circumstances connected with the animal rights activist.
“She’s been involved in criminal activities. In 1999, she was -”
“Excuse me, but unless she was involved in a case similar to this one, I fail to see the relevance, DI Pereira.”
“Her animal rights group has been connected to a number of burglaries and sabotages -”
“Alright. I see what you mean. But did Jess actually take part in those actions? And even if she did, I still can’t see that it’s likely that she’s sent me those messages and -”
“I understand. Could you tell me what made you decide not to see her again?”
“She made that decision. Not I.”
This came as something of a surprise to Pereira, but he wasn’t in any way dissuaded from believing the activist girl suspicious. If she was guilty of stalking Dr Cunningham remained to be seen.
“Really? And may I ask why?”
“She – she felt uncomfortable with what I do for a living.”
“She didn’t like the fact that you’re a doctor?”
Harry hesitated. He really didn’t want his personal life exposed like this, but he realized that he had to cooperate fully with the police if he wanted the stalker stopped.
“She didn’t like that I’m a pathologist.”
This did rather put a dent in Pereira’s theory. He’d been so sure that Dr Cunningham had dumped the girl once he learned about her activism.
And who could blame anyone for being uncomfortable around someone who spent his days up to his elbows in intestines? He knew he always had to brace himself whenever the investigation of a case forced him to visit the morgue. It was only his professionalism that made him put on a brave face. That and the risk of ridicule from his fellow officers.
But this changed nothing. There had to be another motive. All he had to do was find it and he’d have the girl.
Realizing that he could get no further with Dr Cunningham, Pereira decided to tackle the girl herself.
He found out her address and along with his partner, DI Craig, went to pay her a visit. It was around six in the evening, and with the fog and the thick rain, the street lights hardly pierced the gloom. Ms Riley didn’t live on campus, nor did she have a flat in one of the dull, grey buildings where most of the younger students were forced to rent their bedsitters or shared flats. Instead, she had a nice, though small flat on the third floor of a renovated Victorian house, not far from campus, in a quiet street.
Pereira had checked with university records and knew that ms Riley was 27 years old, had an older sister who was a successful web designer and a mother who ran a small shop in the center.
DI Craig ran the doorbell and waited. No one came to answer the door, for so long, Pereira was beginning to suspect the girl wasn’t in. They were about to leave, when there was the sound of footsteps from inside, and the door opened just a crack. There was a safety chain on and a dark haired girl was peering outside, rather suspiciously, Pereira felt. Who was she expecting? The police?
“DI Pereira. This is DI Craig. May we come in?”
“What’s this about?”
“If you’ll let us in, we’ll tell you. This is a serious matter, and I’m sure you’d rather we discussed it inside.”
“Have you come to arrest me for something?”
“Since you can’t even tell me what it’s about.”
There was a note of deep distrust and suspicion and in fact, a chill that left Pereira and Craig in no doubt of her feelings concerning their visit. Typical of those activists.
Finally, she removed the safety chain and grudgingly let them inside. DI Craig wasn’t very imaginative, but he could read the look in her eyes loud and clear.
They explained their errand and began to question her extensively. Since she was already negative towards them, it was no use treading lightly.
When it came to her relations with Dr Cunningham, she was evasive, but she vehemently denied sending any messages or making any phone calls to him. The suggestion that she had stolen any objects from him, was greeted with a sullen stare.
At the moment, Pereira didn’t feel they had enough to bring her in, so eventually he gave up and decided to return as soon as he had more evidence. Back at the station he began to search the archives for any information concerning Jess Riley and when he failed to come up with anything conclusive, he lifted the phone and began to ring up other stations, to ask around for information about his suspect.
One of his colleagues had something very interesting to tell him. Finally, he felt he had enough to request a search warrant. Though it was getting late, he and Craig returned to the girl’s flat and began to search it thoroughly. They turned up some pretty nice sketches of a young man, a diary and some photos of the young man from the sketches. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be connected to Dr Cunningham, and Jess certainly didn’t take kindly to having her possessions ransacked.
She picked up the phone to make a call, but Pereira stopped her in her tracks.
“Hold on. You’ll be allowed one phone call later. Down at the station.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“If that’s necessary. I prefer to call it ‘helping the police with their inquiries’.”
Jess put the phone down and shot Pereira a defiant glare.
“Right. Would you like me to come now?”
“Yes. Now would be good.”
They took her down to the station and found an interview room for them. A couple of prostitutes stared wonderingly at the young woman who was being taken in for questioning. She certainly didn’t look as if she belonged to their lot.
The interview came off to a bad start, when Pereira put down Jess’ diary on the table.
“What will I find in here? Anything about Dr Cunningham?”
“Why don’t you read it and find out?”
“You could save us both some time if you tell me.”
“Yes. There’s a bit about him. Not much, since I haven’t known him for very long. But there’s nothing like what you’re suggesting.”
“Alright. We’ll leave the diary for now. Before Dr Cunningham, were you seeing someone else?”
“Not for a long time.”
“Three years? That’s a long time. What happened?”
“Do you really want to know what happened?”
An odd note had come into her voice. It was different from her earlier defiance, but no less hostile.
“Yes. Go on, tell me.”
“You killed him.”
Pereira blinked in confusion. Had the girl said what he thought she was saying? Killed him?
“We were going to get married. And you shot him.”
“I never -”
“Your lot. One of you.”
“Excuse me. Who was shot?”
“My fiance. Will.”
Pereira and Craig exchanged glances. They had to take back the initiative somehow. This was something they hadn’t been prepared for. Pereira swore under his breath. His informants must have missed this particular piece of information. But it changed nothing. He’d get her, the –
“Your fiance Will. I was just going to ask about him.”
“Doesn’t it matter to you? He’s dead because of you.”
“How did he die? I mean, what were the circumstances of his death?”
“They were raiding a kennel breeding dogs for research and -”
“I see. They? Not you?”
“No. Not me. Will and I didn’t agree about everything.”
“And the handcuffs? Did you agree about them?”
A confused look came into the girl’s eyes and for a second, they lost their angry glint.
“The handcuffs you used to tie him to the bed. And when he was tied up, you assaulted him. Isn’t that right?”
“I – the handcuffs were his idea.”
“How convenient. His idea? Right. What a pity he isn’t here today to confirm that.”
“Yes. It’s a pity. I only wish he were here.”
“Do you deny that you tied your fiance to the bed and physically assaulted him?”
“I didn’t assault him.”
“But you used violence against him?”
Finally, he was getting close. He’d penetrated her defences. This was it. She now looked nothing like the furious but controlled creature from the beginning of the interview. Her face was turning pink and she avoided meeting his gaze. Now he had her.
“I – spanked him. Once.”
“Yes. I – it was just too weird. And he wasn’t serious about it. It was just – an experiment.”
“Experiment? What else did you experiment with?”
She was regaining control of herself.
Pereira drew himself up for a renewed assault, when she looked up and faced him squarely.
“What’s your problem, DI Pereira? Why do you hate me so much? I don’t even know you.”
“I know your kind.”
Pereira spat out the word as if it left a foul taste in his mouth.
“Whatever your excuse, all you want is to tear everything down. And you don’t care who gets hurt. For instance a colleague of mine. A friend. We were working together here, in London, when some spoiled brats like you and your friends threw a brick at him. It cracked his skull. He died later that evening, without regaining consciousness. He left a wife with a baby on the way.”
“Animal rights activists?”
“What’s the difference? These were protesting against the capitalist society. So what? You’re all the same.”
Craig was glancing nervously at his colleague. They were losing control over the interview and frankly, he didn’t feel they had much to go on. A couple of students experimenting with handcuffs and spanking? They saw a lot worse in their line of work. And so far they hadn’t seen anything to suggest the girl was obsessed with Dr Cunningham or held hostile feelings towards him.
Though he wouldn’t like to say so, he had a feeling Pereira’s personal opinion of activists was clouding his judgment. But Craig also knew that Pereira was normally a brilliant detective and he would never openly question his motives.
In any case, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. DC Grogan asked to speak to DI Pereira, who took a deep breath and collected himself, before stepping outside. In the meantime, Craig felt uncomfortable being left alone with the girl. He didn’t have any questions for her and if she decided to press charges against Pereira for some reason, it would place them both in an awkward situation.
By the time Pereira returned inside, he looked shaken. Something had happened which had made him lose sight of his purpose. He wasted no time ending the interview and telling ms Riley she was free to go.
“What? You drag me down here and ask me rude questions about my personal life and now I’m free to go? What’s going on?”
“You’re no longer required to help with our investigation. You can go.”
She looked as if she could hardly believe what was happening. After glaring another couple of seconds at Pereira, she shook her head and began to walk away. The constable on duty returned her belongings and showed her out.
Craig turned on Pereira, an inquiring look on his face.
“What’s up? A couple of minutes ago you wanted to arrest her. Now you tell her to go.”
“Dr Cunningham is missing. He never returned home after his last shift at the morgue. While we had ms Riley in custody.”
Pereira had a stunned look on his face and his voice held a note of disbelief.
“I see. Well, we’d better find him.”
Craig didn’t have to point out that if he hadn’t wasted time focusing on the activist lead, they might have uncovered something relevant to the case. At best they might have caught the stalker before he managed to abduct his victim. Pereira knew this far too well. He was hoping his mistake wouldn’t cost Dr Cunningham his life.
Harry’s head was spinning and his eyelids felt heavy. His first thought was that he’d come down with the flu. He was wondering if his mother would be bringing a hot drink, when he became aware of an odd sensation. There was a strange tingling in his arms and legs, that felt every bit as heavy as his eyelids. He tried to move his hand, but it wouldn’t obey him. Neither would his feet or fingers or toes. In fact, he found that it was only with the utmost difficulty he could even draw breath. Other than that, he was immobile.
That couldn’t be right. Fighting down the rising panic, he asked himself if this might simply be a dream. A dream brought on by fever. If that was the explanation for the odd sensation, he had to be very ill. Besides, he was fairly sure he wasn’t dreaming. Once the first dizziness had passed, he found he could keep his head clear. There was no accompanying nausea and as far as he could tell, there was no pain. Nothing consistent with an injury.
Though he couldn’t open his eyes, he felt a strong light beating down on his eyelids. In fact, the light gave off some heat, so either he was outside in the sun – in December? – or – and this had to be the explanation – a strong light was aimed at his face.
As he came to this conclusion, he also became aware of hearing the sound of footsteps and someone breathing rather heavily, like someone carrying a heavy load, or someone in bad shape. Whoever it was stopped close to him and remained standing still.
“Beginning to come to?”
The voice was strangely familiar. Was he after all ill and had been taken to the hospital? Though he tried, he couldn’t make his mouth obey him and create any sound. The light touch of fingers on his eyelids made Harry’s heart flutter anxiously. He felt his eyes being pried open and for a second, the harsh light blinded him. When he adapted to the light, he saw –
“I see you’ve finally made the connection.”
“Arthur? Dr Randall? What’s going on?”
“Oh, you’re no doubt wondering why I’ve brought you here. All in good time.”
Harry tried to move his eyes enough to get an overview of wherever he was. He could see very little beyond Dr Randall’s familiar bulk. What little he could see appeared to be a largely empty underground vault or cellar. There was just the light and a sort of platform he was on.
Almost outside his field of vision, he thought he could detect a table of some kind. Probably just a wooden board propped up somehow. He thought he could see some objects lying on the board.
His eyes kept returning to Dr Randall. Dr Randall had said that he’d brought him here. For what purpose?”
The shock of finding himself in such a strange predicament had delayed his awareness of another state of affairs, just as strange. He wasn’t wearing any clothes.
An icy touch of panic pierced him and he felt his heart pounding almost painfully in his chest. For a moment he feared he was going to have difficulty breathing.
Dr Randall now returned to Harry’s side, from the board where he’d been busy with something Harry hadn’t been able to see. Moving closer, Dr Randall began to look down on Harry, intensely and unnvervingly.
Instinctively, Harry tried to inch away from his colleague, but still couldn’t make his body obey him.
Harry’s mouth felt dry. He was beginning to put two and two together and with the realization of who his stalker was, came a blinding fear. Nigel had said the messages spoke of someone insane, someone dangerous. Whatever the explanation for Arthur having drugged and abducted him, it could hardly be innocent.
And Arthur’s next move brought that home painfully to Harry. With some effort, Arthur kneeled beside Harry and began to touch him. The touch was cool and professional, yet filled Harry with the deepest dread. it was as if – Arthur was considering where to make an incision. Harry wished he hadn’t had that thought. Now he couldn’t leave it alone. His own hands knew exactly how to open a body up, economically but decisively. He knew exactly where to –
Now Arthur managed to stretch out beside Harry. He reached behind him and pulled out a camera. Propped up on his elbow, he began to snap picture after picture of Harry from all angles he could get. His breathing sounded more laboured than before and there was a rasping noise which grated on Harry’s nerves.
Suddenly, the slow preliminaries were over. Arthur covered Harry’s mouth with his own and helplessly, Harry felt the other man’s tongue snake in between his lips. Before he had time to recover from that shock, pain shot through his lower lip, and he realized Arthur had bitten him. The teeth had penetrated the sensitive skin and were buried in the flesh.
And now Harry found that he could make some sound after all. The low whimpering noise appeared to make no impression on Arthur. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, some power of movement returned to Harry. He still couldn’t move his arms or legs and knew he wouldn’t be able to get up, but whatever it was Arthur had given him was beginning to wear off slightly.
In fact, though Harry’s mind was clouded both by fear and the searing pain shooting through his flesh, he had some idea of what drug Arthur must have used. Not that it would do him any good. At least not for a long time.
Finally, Arthur let go of the savaged lip and began to trail his tongue down Harry’s chest. Bracing himself for more pain, Harry felt his breath coming in brief, shallow sobs.
Though he was struggling to subdue the growing realization that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive, he felt all hope abandon him. Wherever he was, it wasn’t likely anyone would find him until Arthur had done what he wanted to him.
His eyes filled with tears as he thought of his mother all alone. His death would kill her, he had no doubt about it. She was healthy and fit for her age, but any parent losing a child would be exposed to a higher risk of mortality, even someone far younger than she was. And Jess – His friends –
To his surprise, Arthur now withdrew slightly and began to let his hands move down Harry’s body. This didn’t make Harry feel any better, but at least there was no immediate threat of another bite.
“You must be wondering how I knew.”
Harry tried to make his lips obey him but failed. Despite that, it seemed Arthur knew what he was trying to ask.
“That you wanted me to have you. It was easy. I can always tell. There’s that look in your eyes. Oh, and the rest of it. Your posture. The way you showed yourself to me. Moving to catch my eye. Of course I saw it. You don’t have to say anything. Save your strength. Besides, you don’t even know it yet – all you want me to do. Don’t worry about it. I know. I know exactly the right way to do it. And when it’s over, you’ll always be with me. Inside me.”
Harry didn’t like the sound of that at all. In a way, it would have been easier to come to terms with Arthur’s intention of raping him, because Harry had no doubt that was where this was going, or if Arthur simply wanted to kill him. This – felt somehow even more ominous.
And he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Arthur was going to kill him in the end. The question was merely when that would happen and what he’d have to put up with before it was over.
Though the fear and the dull pain throbbing in his lip was making it hard to think, Harry tried to calculate the odds of anyone finding him in time. It had looked as if Pereira was focusing solely on Jess. If he’d uncovered some evidence leading in another direction, he hadn’t given any indication of it. But it was still possible that the police was on his trail or that someone had seen something suspicious and had called the police. The chance was slim, but he couldn’t entirely rule it out.
The question was, would he be alive to see the police arrive, wherever they were? Was there any way he could delay the inevitable just a bit longer, to give the police time to arrive? He had a feeling there might be something. Something about the way Arthur had been eyeing him, the way he had said ‘lovely’ and his words about ‘wanting me to have you’. Though he could think of a few other interpretations of ‘have you’, the obvious one stood out.
He could offer himself, sexually, and trade what little was left of his dignity for some time. Time that might be wasted in the end. Or – he could simply resign himself to the inevitable and hope it would be over soon. Neither option seemed very pleasant, but some part of Harry which refused to give up, had already made the decision. He would try to stall the madman who held him prisoner. As long as he was alive, there was still a shred of hope.
Again, he tried to force his mouth into shaping words that came to him, from somewhere, and this time, eventually he was successful. He swallowed blood, fighting down the nausea and began to speak.
“Thank you for understanding. The moment I saw you, I knew you could help me. I’ve never been able to find someone right, someone who can –
He tried desperately to find the right words. If he didn’t get more specific, the madman might even think he was asking to be finished off, the sooner the better.
“Someone who can teach me about – love.”
In the silence that followed, Harry was wondering if he’d made a mistake, or if nothing he could say or do would make a difference anyway. The seconds ticked away, with no other accompaniment than the laboured breathing of both men.
Then Arthur slid closer and his left hand trailed down Harry’s body. When he felt the hand close on him, Harry closed his eyes. It was working. He immediately began to regret what he’d done, then began to try and calculate how long it might take the police to get here, if they ever would.
“Roy – I ran a check on the other doctors and I just got back a report from up north. The GP who suddenly wanted to cut up corpses. Always thought that funny. I mean, why trade a cushy desk job for something as messy as that? Look.”
“There’s a connection between his whereabouts and those rapes and murders back in – the nineties sometime?”
“Yes. Four girls, one young man. But look here, a DI Spence from Leeds has noted that two other young men might be connected to the same killer. At the time they were put down to gang killings, but the boys weren’t seriously involved in any of that.”
“But the rapes of the girls – wasn’t that young man killed because he tried to defend his girlfriend? What would be the motives for killing those other two boys?”
“Sex? DI Spence had the pathologist look for traces of sexual assault and there was some indication of it. Not enough to be conclusive. And the first young man was too badly mauled to get any certain indications either way.”
“Not necessarily. It’s here somewhere. Right. The Dr Hammond who performed the second post mortem -”
“The parents were asking for a second opinion. Hoping to find more evidence pointing towards a killer. It seems they had a suspect in mind. Apparently they were wrong. But Dr Hammond noticed that the young man had most likely been raped as well. No DNA.”
“So you think Dr Randall has abducted Dr Cunningham to sexually assault him?”
“And to mutilate and kill him. Come on. This is enough to search his house.”
“He wouldn’t have him there. There has to be some other place. What else did you find out about him?”
“Wait a minute. There was something about a cemetary. A crypt. Yes. He was the GP of a family whose baby was abducted and killed. It was found in the crypt of St Catherine’s Church.”
“But I thought he came here from up north only a few months ago?”
“This time around. Apparently, he’d worked here before he was married.”
“St Catherine’s – yes. I know where it is. Let’s go. I’ll put in a request for backup.
With the prospect of catching a serial killer looming over the station’s horizon, it had been easy to get the green light for assembling a large task force. This type of operation wasn’t exactly rare in their neck of the woods but would still have been likely to draw attention, if it hadn’t been so late, and the weather so poor. By the time all the officers were in place, an ambulance was standing by outside the cemetary.
Pereira shamefacedly hoped that his following a false lead wouldn’t mean the victim was already dead, and – the killer long gone. He dreaded making up the report, but was hoping that if the outcome of the night’s raid was favourable, it would help his case. Determinedly, he put the thought of the mishandled investigation aside. He would have to focus entirely on the raid. There was still plenty that could go wrong.
After studying some old maps of the crypt, Pereira gave the order to proceed.
Through a back door, and simultaneously through two different windows, the men entered, and could successfully subdue the suspect. Unfortunately, while the intended victim was still alive, it was also plain to see what the killer had been in the process of doing. The actual injuries weren’t as bad as might have been expected, though Dr Cunningham bled from a number of cuts and scratches all over his body.
Pereira swore under his breath as the impact of what he’d seen sank in. No wonder those other bodies had been too badly mutilated to tell what had been done to them, at least not at first sight.
Harry was still conscious when the police raided the crypt. He hadn’t been aware of where he was, until quite late. Gradually, his sight had returned to normal and he’d regained more and more mobility.
There had been a time when he’d contemplated making a last desperate attempt to break free. He’d even thought of a way to temporarily put Randall out of commission. It wasn’t anything he’d ever imagined himself doing to anyone, but as a doctor he knew all about the human body, in theory. His work as a pathologist had shown him plenty of gruesome ways of hurting, or even killing, all without using any weapon other than one’s own hands.
But perhaps he still suffered the effect of the drug, or he was simply in shock. In any case, he hadn’t been able to gather up his courage to strike before the police arrived.
He felt strangely indifferent to his timely rescue. In fact, he didn’t think he felt anything at all. His mind was a blank. It seemed he’d achieved what he’d set out to do, but that didn’t produce any feeling of triumph or exhilaration. Perhaps he should have let Randall do what he wanted. If he had, it would all have been over now anyway.
It hadn’t taken the media long to figure out what was going on. The department had all the publicity they could wish for and more. A press conference was called for 9 am the following day. Pereira hadn’t slept a wink. He’d been up for hours filling out his report, then wandering around his flat, too wound up to sleep.
Twelve minutes before the press conference was to start, he was waved into the gov’s office.
“Detective Inspector Pereira. I just received a phone call from a barrister representing a Ms Riley. They have just filed a formal complaint against the department for harassment. There was very little about this – suspect – in your report.
He meaningfully tapped a file lying on his desk.
“Perhaps you’d like to fill me in now. You had this young woman in custody, while the victim – that young doctor – was abducted? Was that when you realized you had been following the wrong lead?”
Pereira didn’t know what to say. It was true. He hadn’t had a thought in his mind for any other suspect. It had never even entered his head that the girl might be innocent. Perhaps his judgment had been clouded. In retrospect, he saw that DI Craig had been right. The case against her had been extremely tenuous.
“Yes. I -”
The gov waved his reply away with an impatient hand gesture.
“Never mind. What I’m concerned with is that this young woman feels she was harassed. Is there any truth in that?”
Pereira drew himself up. They had followed the rule book. No one could find fault with their methods.
“Sir, we followed procedure at every point.”
“I’m glad to hear it, DI Pereira, but that’s not really the issue here. Is it possible that you might have been unusually harsh on the young woman? I’m told you expressed prejudices against her involvement in the animal rights movement, is that correct?”
“Sir – they’re criminals.”
“Perhaps. But you weren’t investigating sabotage against a farm or any other facility holding animals, or whatever else these young people do. You suspected her of abducting a man, for – some twisted sexual reason – is that true? Her legal representative will be sure to point out that her past as an animal rights activist was in no way relevant in this context. And he’d be right, wouldn’t he, DI Pereira?
The worst part was that the gov was right. Why should a hooligan, a vandal, be likely to be a sex offender? Anything was possible, but the idea that a young woman had physically overpowered and incapacitated a man was simply too far-fetched. And his prejudice had almost led to a man’s death.
“We’re running late at as it is, but after the press conference I’d like you to try to apologize to this young woman. See if you can make her withdraw her complaint. We don’t need that kind of publicity. Am I making myself clear, DI Pereira?”
At least they were the darlings of the media. Today. It had been agreed that they would do their best to avoid mentioning anything about the nature of Dr Cunningham’s injuries, or the likely cause for his abduction. Not that it would be easy. The killer had raped and killed at least four young women and if some reporter dug up the story about the young man who had been sexually assaulted, not to mention the two who might have been, they would be all over it, like flies over a day old carcass.
As soon as he could, DI Pereira left the station and headed over to ms Riley’s flat. She wasn’t there. He was wondering if he’d need to drive back to her home town some forty minutes’ drive away, when it struck him that she might be at the hospital.
He was right. She was sitting outside Dr Cunningham’s room, in the corridor, waiting to be allowed inside. Pereira suspected Dr Cunningham’s mother was there now, or perhaps his doctor.
She must have heard his approach and looked up. Her face was a rigid mask, and he couldn’t read anything into her eyes, which looked like dark pools of water.
“Ms Riley – I realize this isn’t a good time, but could I have a word with you?”
She swallowed, as if to clear her throat, and now he realized that the opaque look in her eyes was because of tears held at bay. He was wondering if Dr Cunningham was more badly injured than they’d first thought, but concluded that she’d be upset in any case.
“I suppose so. It’s about the law suit, isn’t it?”
She spoke without emphasis.
“Ms Riley – I – I’ve come to apologize to you for my behaviour last night. All I can say is I was wrong and I’m truly sorry. For your sake as well as your friend, Dr Cunningham’s.”
“And for your police department.”
Again, it didn’t sound as if she really cared.
“That too. In fact, I was sent here by my gov. But I know I treated you unfairly. There’s no excuse for my attitude.”
“There’s your partner. The one who was killed. But it wasn’t even animal rights activists who did that. And at least the group I work with don’t believe in violence. Not against anyone living.”
“I know. And – I realize you must feel as if you have reason to resent the police. For killing your fiance.”
“Yes. I do feel I have a right to. Your lot used more force than was called for under the circumstances. Will – Will wasn’t armed. Not with anything. He was there to spray paint on a wall.”
Pereira hung his head. It did seem like a too harsh punishment for such a small offence. He didn’t know the circumstances but he did know that many of his colleagues saw activists as little better than terrorists. Hadn’t he too felt that it was just as likely that a girl who spent her spare time finding new homes for unwanted pets also enjoyed kidnapping, torturing and killing young men?
“I’m sorry. All I can say is that – I don’t know the exact circumstances but – it does seem as if you have a point. What your fiance did, wasn’t cause enough to fire at him.”
She looked up, and stared at him as if she was only now seeing him for the first time. Perhaps she did. Saw him as a human being, not a representative of the police force.
“Alright. I’ll talk to my organization. We’ll consider withdrawing the charges against you. If you’ll agree to study our material. Films, photographs, reports. Look at how animals are treated in research labs, fur farms, slaughter houses.”
He blinked in surprise. That was certainly unexpected. But under the circumstances, he didn’t feel as if he had a choice. If only she withdrew the charges, the least he could do was look at that material. Perhaps he ought to know what those groups were working against.
“Fine. Send me that material and I’ll look at it.”
“Let me warn you. Some of that stuff is extremely gruesome.”
“I’ve seen gruesome before. I think I’ll be able to handle it.”
“Yes, I’m sure you have. But what you’ve seen were considered crimes. Your job was to catch the persons responsible. In this case, your job is to protect the ones who are responsible for the cruelty.”
“Right. Well, I appreciate your understanding.”
“Oh, I’ve thought about it and I’ve come to the conclusion there are other issues that are more important than my personal discomfort.”
It struck him that perhaps her personal discomfort had never been an issue at all. The lawsuit had most likely been intended to call attention to their work. And that meant it was even more surprising she gave in so easily. Perhaps it was merely the shock of finding out what had happened to her new friend, Dr Cunningham. In any case, he could consider himself lucky. Now perhaps the gov would get off his back.
He held out his hand towards ms Riley and after a moment’s hesitation, she took it.
When he left, she was still sitting there, very upright, very rigid, her face pale and her hands restlessly playing with the zipper puller in her jacket.
One of the nurses told him that he had a visitor, if he felt up to it. His mother had just left and he felt like sleeping for a week. Seeing her had been painful. He’d been forced to lie to her about his injuries. Since he was now both fully dressed, though in a hospital gown, and covered up by a sheet and blanket, all she could see was his face. It was easy enough to claim that he’d been knocked about a bit, and that was all. He didn’t know if she believed him or not.
After a moment’s hesitation, he asked the nurse who the visitor was. She described the young woman and he felt jolted out of the drug induced apathy. Jess. He felt torn by conflicting emotions, but in the end, he couldn’t help wanting to see her again.
To begin with, they felt awkward, seeing each other again. The last time they’d met and really talked, she had told him she didn’t want to see him again.
“Thanks for letting me see you.”
He tried to smile, but somehow the effort was too much and he had to abandon the attempt. Not knowing what to say, he fell back on meaningless polite phrases.
“Please. Sit down. I’m – glad to see you.”
“I’ll be fine. As you can see, I’m not really hurt. Jess – I just heard from DI Pereira that – he suspected you. That he had you brought in for questioning? Is that true? Did they – ransack your flat?”
“Yes, it’s true, but don’t worry about it. DI Pereira and I have had a talk and we understand each other now. He promised he would do something for me and so I said we’ll just forget about it. I suppose he had his reasons for being so prejudiced against us.”
“I’m sorry. It’s totally unfair. And ridiculous. Why would you want to -”
He broke off, not wanting to remember who had wanted to hurt him and in what way.
“Exactly. Still, no harm done. I’m fine. Harry – I’m sorry too. You know, for – telling you that I didn’t want to see you again. I mean – you know – go out with you and – so on.”
And so on? Harry clenched his fists so as not to recall in graphic detail why ‘and so on’ wouldn’t be an option, for a long time, if ever. Besides, he still hadn’t heard Jess say she’d changed her mind. Just that she was sorry. He was sorry too. It had never occurred to him that what he did could be such a deterrent. The last thing he wanted was to make Jess uncomfortable.
“It’s ok, Jess. I understand.”
It hurt to talk, but at the moment, he’d much rather talk and listen to Jess talking than face the images inside his head.
“I don’t know if – I mean, I’m not sure if I can get used to the idea of you cutting up dead bodies, but – I’ll try.”
Dead bodies, not living bodies. With an effort, he tore his mind away from the morbid thoughts. Something in her voice had told him what an effort it must have been for her to make that promise. Did that mean – If she was that determined to repress her feelings of disgust for what he did, could it mean – that she actually cared – really cared?
Shyly, she placed her hand on his, very lightly, as if prepared to pull back at the slightest sign of discomfort on his part. But he didn’t want her to withdraw her hand. It felt nice having it there. Feeling her touch actually made him feel less – unreal. As if her presence, and her touch somehow anchored him in reality. His mind shied away from sifting through the memories of last night, to try and make sense of them, but whatever he felt, he knew that physically he was alright.
The cuts and – bite marks – were superficial. They would heal, aided by that shot of antibiotics, they’d given him, right after the sedative. And if Jess would be there, when – if – he felt ready to face the world, there was something to look forward to, something to hang on to, to keep him from losing himself in the inferno of his mind.
At last the smile he had been trying to conjure up appeared almost of its own accord.
“Jess, I’m really glad you’re here.”
She smiled at him and some of the tension left her face.
“You know what I made DI Pereira promise? To watch all our material about fur farms, vivisection and slaughterhouses.”
“I’m sure he’ll find it interesting. I should probably look at it too.”
“You don’t have to. We don’t need to show it to people who are already converted.”
“Serves him right. What an idiot.”
“He saved your life. I – that was one reason I wouldn’t press charges. It would be terribly ungrateful to take him to court, after he’d just saved the life of someone I care about.”
She’d even said it out loud. Judging by her voice and the look on her face, she meant it. Harry began to relax a little and allowed his eyelids to droop. He just had to rest his eyes a bit. Before he had time for another coherent thought, he was asleep.
Jess stayed until a nurse came to throw her out. Harry had been glad to see her. She’d be back in the morning. It seemed it would be a while until he could get back to work. That should give her time to get used to everything and to get to know him better.
She couldn’t help shudder as she thought of what she guessed Harry had been through at the hands of that madman. It was the sheerest luck that he was still here so she could get to know him. This time, she wouldn’t waste the opportunity. She’d lost Will. She wouldn’t lose Harry too.