|Primary Characters:||Nigel, Harry|
|Warning:||adult themes, sexual abuse of minor implied, violence, language|
|Description:||Nigel’s girlfriend and her best friend go on action against a farm. They are caught and two members of the group are injured. Nigel and Harry have to come to the rescue. Nigel’s mother visits her ex-husband and finds out something disturbing. Nigel’s sister returns. She’s put two and two together and wants to talk to her brother.|
Sandra St Martin faced her fiance, Nigel Townsend, over the breakfast table. He was cramming toast into his mouth, while glancing through The Guardian, one eye constantly on his watch. As usual, he was a little bit late for work, now that he didn’t more or less stay all night, catching a few winks on the couch in the staff room.
“Nige, I – I’m going to visit Jess over the weekend. Will you be alright on your own?”
Nigel lowered the newspaper and hastily swallowed the last piece of toast. He knew what Sandra was really saying. She was about to embark on one of the animal rights organisation’s actions. The less he knew about that, the better, considering his position. He could handle the secrecy, but each time Sandra left, he was concerned about her. His friend Harry’s fiancee, Jess, who happened to be Sandra’s best friend, had lost her first fiance to a bullet, fired by a police officer. The young man had merely been spraying a few words on a wall.
If anything were to happen to Sandra – Nigel couldn’t even imagine his life without her, now that he’d finally found her again after all those years of running from his past. On the other hand, he’d sworn he wouldn’t try to hold her back. He knew how much her work – both her every day work and the animal rights work – meant to her. How could he expect her to give all that up, just because he was worried about her?
Forcing himself to sound unconcerned, he nodded and smiled.
“Of course. I’ll be fine. Harry and I might go out for a few beers or I could look in on mum. Just – be careful.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
Sandra wasn’t a bit concerned about her own safety. What bothered her was Nigel’s state of mind. Since his father had shot and killed Nigel’s uncle Clive, who had been sexually assaulting him for five years, and a number of convicted paedophiles just released from prison, her fiance had been – distraught. His father was still in hospital, recovering from the injuries he’d sustained when the police had disarmed him. In due course there would be a trial, and though mr Townsend had promised his son not to mention anything about his real motive for killing his brother-in-law, there was no guarantee nothing would come out.
Facing the risk of having to testify in court, in front of the media posse, Nigel had to be apprehensive. Added to that, was the shock of almost losing his father, at a point in their lives when they finally had a chance of reconciliation. Naturally, Nigel would be in a delicate state, emotionally, especially after his attempted suicide some months earlier. At least now the cuts on the inside of his wrists were fully healed, having left distinctive scars, which never failed to distress Sandra, whenever she caught sight of them or accidentally touched them.
“Nige – are you sure? If you’re still shaken up by what happened, I could tell Jess that – I’ll have to see her some other time. I’d much rather be here with you, if you need me.”
Nigel felt ashamed of himself for causing Sandra so much concern. He wanted to be the one to support her, not the other way around, though it did feel wonderful, knowing she was there by his side, and always would be.
“No, I’ll be fine, love. Honestly. Harry and I can keep each other company. Besides, I think I might work on the blog too.”
“Alright. Have fun.”
After work, Nigel did go to the pub, with his friend Harry. They even threw a few darts, but their hearts weren’t in it. Instead, they decided to go and see a movie. There was a very interesting ghost story on one of the cinemas and Nigel had been wanting to see it for some time. Sandra liked movies, even ghost stories, but they usually ended up watching them at home, on DVD. Now that the girls were away, they might as well do the whole cinema experience.
Afterwards, Nigel and Harry went to a vegetarian restaurant some friends of Sandra and Jess were running, and had a pizza with a delicious topping which even Harry had to admit was indistinguishable from the real thing. When Jess had explained to him about what went on in the slaughterhouses, Harry had lost his appetite for steak, beef or even lamb or chicken. It had caused his mother much alarm, but in the end, she’d accepted and taken a course in vegetarian cooking, and had returned filled with enthusiasm. Harry now found himself eating vegetarian food every day, much to his own bafflement.
Nigel recalled his blog and decided to show it to Harry. Sandra referred to it as ‘wacky’ and he was afraid Harry might think so too, but he wanted to hear his friend’s opinion anyway.
“When do you need to be back? I mean, before your mum sends out the cavalry?”
Harry looked a little self-conscious and Nigel immediately regretted causing his friend embarrassment over the fact that he was still, at the ripe old age of twenty eight, living with his mother. However, it turned out the cause for his reaction was slightly different.
“Actually, mum isn’t at home.”
Nigel felt puzzled. He didn’t understand how Harry’s mother’s absence could cause such a reaction in her son.
“Oh? In that case – Where is she?”
“That’s just it. I’m afraid – well, that she might be staying with a friend.”
“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? I thought you’d like the fact that she’s not sitting at home alone all the time.”
“Yes, of course. It’s just that – I think it’s a male friend.”
By now, Harry’s pleasant features were taking on colour and Nigel suddenly realized what he was dreading. In fact, even at his age, Nigel could feel the same dread, at the prospect of his own mother spending the night with a male friend. Not that that would ever happen.
“Oh. I’m sorry. Jeez. I’m glad my mum’s always – Oh, listen to us. We shouldn’t be grudging elderly ladies their fun. I’m happy for your mum. You should be too.”
“I am – when she goes to concerts and lectures with him. It’s just when she’s gone overnight, I – but you’re right, it’s petty of me. I hope they’re very happy.”
“That’s the spirit. Now, listen, I was thinking we could drop by the office and check out my blog. If you’re interested. It’s about unsolved crimes and – a lot of interesting stuff. Famous murder cases and so on.”
Harry looked doubtful and too late, Nigel recalled that his friend had almost become one of the victims of a famous serial killer himself, not too long ago. How callous of him not to remember.
“You know what, let’s forget about that. It was bloody insensitive of me and -”
“No, that’s alright. I’d love to see your blog. After all, solving crime is our job. What you’ve told me about that blog is interesting. You know, speaking of blogs – my mum’s got one.”
“Alright. That sounds like fun. Have you read it?”
Again, there was a pained look on Harry’s face and Nigel had time to wonder what the lady was writing about, when finally his friend found the words to explain his reaction.
“Well, I’ve never actually had the nerve to read it. What if there’s something about her – friend in it? Or about me? Mum’s never really seen that I’m grownup. In her mind, I’m still her baby. There could be anything in that blog.”
“Would you mind if I took a look?”
Nigel couldn’t help grinning amusedly at the thought of mrs Cunningham going online to write a journal. There might be some really juicy stuff in it.
“Yes, I would. Just think how you’d feel if your mum had a blog online.”
“You’re right. Never mind. Well, shall we?”
They looked in on the morgue, but to their relief, neither Dr Leo Dalton or their boss, Professor Sam Ryan were there. If they had been around, they might both have been forced to scrub down and get into surgical gear and start cutting into bodies. Not that they were particularly overworked at the moment, for a change.
Nigel started his computer and typed in the URL to his blog. He was quite proud of it, even if he let his colleague in Boston, Sydney, handle the minor updates. The blog loaded quite nicely, despite the lack of RAM and he waited for Harry’s reaction. Harry bent over him and took over the mouse and began to click through the site. He didn’t make any comment until he’d seen more or less all of it. Nigel was beginning to feel uneasy. His friend’s face didn’t offer any clues to his reaction.
Finally, Harry withdrew and with a deliberately enigmatic smile he made a big show of making himself comfortable in a chair beside his friend.
All this was making Nigel impatient, and he couldn’t help blurting out a question.
“Well? Don’t keep me in suspense, just tell me.”
“It’s brilliant. Really interesting. I could suggest a few improvements. Not the web design, you know I don’t have a clue about that. Just the content. I know of a case or two you might like to add as well. Besides, remember the new techniques we heard about on that seminar last month? You should try to get some of those results and post them too.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. You know, you could help out, if you like. I’ve been looking for someone to help me. Bug – my – friend at the ME’s office in Boston, who was madly into bugs – beetles and other creepy crawlies but he wouldn’t help me. He felt it was undignified to treat crimes as entertainment.”
“This isn’t entertainment. It’s research. You encourage people to get in touch with findings that the police might have missed. I think it’s fascinating. Your – friend must have been really full of himself, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Suddenly, Nigel was hit by an unpleasant insight. His hesitation over the word friend, had made Harry jump to the conclusion there might have been something – else – between him and Bug. The thought made Nigel feel slightly sick. Bug – probably wasn’t an unattractive guy – though women certainly seemed to think so – but he just couldn’t imagine himself in any closer relationship with him. Ugh. Not that the thought of sex with men ever really appealed to him.
“Listen – when I – mentioned that Bug was my – friend -”
Harry looked even more embarrassed now, than when his mother’s blog was being discussed. He shrank back in his chair and looked extremely uncomfortable.
“It’s none of my business. I know it’s – different over there. In the big cities. I wouldn’t presume to judge -”
“Listen to me. That’s not what was going on. He – I thought he was a friend – I mean a buddy, a pal – but he – I suppose I was so desperate to have friends I – overestimated our friendship. That’s all. Sorry about the confusion. I’m not – you know. Even though the Americans seemed to think so. Actually, I think it’s the accent. They might think so about you too, if you ever went.”
“Remind me not to go then. Sorry about the misunderstanding. You sounded so – I don’t know – odd when you mentioned that fellow, so – Never mind. Actually, there was a bit of that at school.”
“Really? I suppose you went to one of those posh places?”
Harry blushed slightly. That was one way of putting it.
“You could say that. Anyway, you always had to be tactful and not blunder into a situation. Sometimes, you’d find that some chap’s other – friend – was actually jealous of you. It was extremely embarrassing. There was this one bloke – a nice chap, at least I thought so – we spent quite a bit of time together. Then one day, I realized that most of the other boys had assumed we were – you know – I was so mortified, but the other chap – just laughed. He said he’d rather they believed it was me than someone else.”
“Was that a compliment?”
Harry’s facial colour deepened and Nigel couldn’t help grinning. At least he wasn’t the only one who had such bad luck in that department.
“I suppose he meant it that way, yes. After that, somehow, it wasn’t the same. I – tried to keep to myself.”
“We never had that kind of thing in our school. Not like that. I heard a bloke tried to kill himself because everyone was saying he was a poof, but – I didn’t know him – and at the time, I was just so grateful no one was saying that about me.”
“School really was awful, now that I think about it.”
“You won’t get any argument from me. I wouldn’t have those days back for anything. Of course – that was partly because of my uncle.”
“I’m really sorry about that. It makes me feel – terrible – to think that a relative – or any grownup for that matter, could be capable of doing that to child. So far, I haven’t had to do a post mortem on a child who was sexually assaulted. A few women, but we sort of expect that, in our line of work. Not that it isn’t bad enough. I just – hope it won’t land on my table any time soon. Or on yours.”
“Me too. Alright, this has gone on long enough. We were supposed to have fun, not get depressed. How about another pint or two before we go home?”
“No. I’m alright. We might as well call it a night. I’m a little concerned about Jess being away. If she were to get hurt – I don’t know what I’d -”
“I feel the same way – about Sandra. In another way, I’m proud though. She’s so brave. Nothing frightens her. You know I actually think that if I was physically threatened by someone, she’d come to the rescue, without hesitation.”
“Wouldn’t you do the same for her?”
“Of course. Oh, did Sandra tell Jess we’re looking for a house?”
“Yes. So are we. Jess told me Sandra wanted us to look for a place in the country. That sounds really nice.”
“Tell me about it. It’s just so expensive. I’m not sure what we’ll be able to afford it. I suppose you don’t have any problems that way?”
Harry again felt uncomfortable. He wasn’t in any way wealthy, but he had a feeling his background was slightly more affluent than that of either of his friends, or even Jess’.
“My dad left me some money. I’m going to use that. Jess has something too, from her dad. So I think we’ll manage. Listen, I was thinking we could get something bigger. Really big, like – an abandoned factory or I don’t know. Something bigger than most people are looking for. We could convert it into flats, so we could be neighbours. I know Jess’ sister is thinking of getting something in the country too, a sort of summer house. We could all pool our resources and get something really nice. A farm maybe. Not one being used as a farm, naturally, but one with the outbuildings and everything.”
“Sort of a commune? I don’t know. Right now, I’d sort of like to spend more time alone with Sandra.”
“I know how you feel, but still, this might be nice. We could make sure we have enough privacy anyway.”
Nigel nodded thoughtfully. In a way, having all these friends was exactly what he’d been looking for all those years in America. Sydney was a nice bloke, but they were hardly close and he knew he’d let his need for affection cloud his judgment. His colleagues at the Boston morgue hadn’t been more than that. Colleagues. Acquaintances. Not the close friends he’d tried to imagine them. Perhaps it was his nationality. The Americans probably couldn’t figure him out. He was better off at home, among his own people.
“Yes, it’s a great idea. If only we can find something suitable. We could just get houses in the same area, if we can’t find anything like that. Of course, we can always hope.”
They went their separate ways and Nigel reluctantly went to bed, staring wistfully at the empty half of the bed. Not that it was quite empty. The cats were lying there, using up most of the space normally occupied by Sandra, however that was possible.
He was beginning to doze off, when he came to, suddenly. The front door opened and the lights went back on.
He hadn’t been expecting her back so soon, and he was instantly alert. Something had to be wrong.
“Nigel. You have to come with me.”
She burst into the room, looking dishevelled and dazed. Nigel was on his feet and met her in the doorway, pulling her into his arms. She was clearly in a state of shock, but didn’t seem to be physically injured.
To his alarm, she now began to sob. This was beginning to seriously unnerve him. Sandra never cried. He’d had a vague idea she’d been crying when she’d found him with his wrists slit, but other than that, he couldn’t even imagine a situation which might cause his lover to break down like this. He did his best to comfort her, hoping there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with her, which wasn’t visible on the surface.
“We have to hurry and get Harry and get out there again. Nigel, Jess is injured. So is Liam and – by now, maybe some of the others might be too. Those sick chicken farmers attacked us. They have everyone else locked up in some vile smelly storage building.”
“Alright. I’m coming. Just let me throw on some clothes. Tell me about Jess and – Liam?”
“There were so many of them, they must have had this planned in advance. They had shotguns and knives and axes and clubs. One of them hit Liam on the head. He’s unconscious. They just dragged him into that building and threw him on the floor. Jess – I think her arm is broken or dislocated. She’s in serious pain and – I’m afraid it might not set properly if she doesn’t get help soon. Then there’s the risk of her going into shock. I was looking at a sick cat, so I was a little behind them. Those bastards didn’t see me, so I knew I had to come and get you. I know the other girls will do their best for Jess and Liam, but I’m the only one with any sort of medical training. Most of them are just teenagers.”
“Alright, let’s go. You know I’m not a practicing doctor. I don’t have any medical instruments. If I went out there, I’d have to make do with what we have on site. Perhaps nothing. Sandra, I know you don’t want this but we might have to call in the police. D I Pereira -”
“No. We’ll go to jail and it will screw up any future actions we have planned. Let’s try on our own first. I could get some instruments from my surgery. Will you be able to work with them?”
“Perhaps. I could set Jess’ arm, certainly, even though I’m out of practice. The last time I did anything like that, I was an intern, and I transferred pretty soon, because I wanted to do research, not practical medicine. The head injury – darling – that’s too serious to mess about with.”
“We’ll have to get them out of there. Then we could take Liam to a hospital.”
“Alright. If it’s possible to move him.”
“You don’t know how it is nowadays. If they were prepared to kill Jess’ fellow, what do you think they’ll do now?”
Nigel nodded grimly. He knew about that. In America he’d read about innocent people whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, who were shot and killed by the police. Now that panic reaction had reached England. He felt as if there was no peaceful place left anywhere in the world. Sandra had a point. They’d have to try and get Jess and those kids out of there, before someone was killed.
Nigel drove Sandra’s car all the way to a bumpy dirt road, ending in a field. He cautiously glanced around, afraid bullets would begin to fly, before they even reached the warehouse. Sandra was jumping up and down beside him, whispering impatiently at him.
He brought the case of veterinary implements from Sandra’s surgery. Surprisingly many were almost exactly the same he was used to from human medicine. There were bandages and disinfectants and even some painkillers – the same brands as for humans. He thought he knew the dosage for a girl Jess’ size and he was reasonably certain he could calculate it for the boy too, if he’d need it.
Sandra was lugging along a sports bag with some blankets and a few bottles of water.
Harry was vocally complaining all the way out there, though Nigel noted that he’d brought his father’s old medical bag. Nigel doubted there was much useful in there. The thing was more of an antique and it upset both Sandra and Jess because it was made of leather, but at least Harry was going to do his part.
The track they were following was muddy and here and there they splashed in water up to their ankles. More than once, they stepped in stuff that had to be cowpats. Suddenly, Sandra put out her hand and stopped Nigel. He could feel her breath against his ear, as she whispered her warning.
“It’s over there. Look.”
By now, their eyes had grown used to the darkness. It was typical that this night, of all nights, they’d be marching around in almost complete darkness. If this had to have happened, it might have been easier if the moon had been full.
Even more cautiously now, they crept towards the windowless building which was towering above them. Somewhere to the left, they saw lights from a farmhouse. They tried the big doors at the front of the building, but they were securely locked by a padlock. Sandra pulled out her handy little instrument left behind by an ex-boyfriend and got to work on the lock.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by the baying of what sounded like a dozen or more hounds. A sharp light dazzled them and before they had time to move, they were surrounded by a crowd of grim looking men. In the ensuing struggle, one of the men yelled angrily and began to jump around on one leg, nursing the other. Sandra had kicked him hard enough to make him let go of her, and while he was swearing and hollering, she managed to break free and make a run for it.
Nigel and Harry were held down by at least four men each and found it impossible to even move an inch. Kicking and struggling, they were lifted off the ground and shoved roughly against the warehouse wall. One of the men shone a light into their eyes.
“What have we here? Backup for those bloody little vandals we caught earlier? Men your age really should know better.”
Another man yanked the bags out of their hands but fortunately, they didn’t open them. Nigel realized that Sandra had the key, so the case with medical supplies wouldn’t open anyway. All their trouble for nothing.
Harry didn’t offer the key to his father’s medical bag, and no one asked for it. They heard the bags being kicked aside. With a sinking feeling, Harry realized that he now had nothing to help Jess with. What would happen to the young man who was injured as well, was even more disquieting, especially if he was as badly injured as Sandra had thought.
Harry decided to try and talk to the men. He found it hard to believe anyone would place other people’s lives on the line, even in a situation such as this.
“Listen to me. My fiancee is in there. She’s injured. My friend and I are doctors. Let us in so we can see to her injuries. In fact, you’d better call an ambulance. I’ve been told there’s a young man in there who might be seriously injured -”
“You don’t give any orders here. Listen to him. He thinks he can come here with his la-di-da accent and tell us what to do. You listen to us, mr High-and-Mighty, we’ll let you see your fiancee, but don’t count on any ambulances. Those bloody little vandals can just take the consequences when they come out here to destroy honest people’s livelihoods.”
The word fiancee was said in an affected sing-song voice.
“In you go.”
They unlocked the big doors and shoved them open, then pushed Harry and Nigel roughly inside. Both landed in an undignified heap, on their hands and knees, but were at least able to avoid any injuries. Frantic with worry about Jess, Harry scrambled to his feet and began calling her name. When the reply came, he winced at how weak she sounded.
“Harry? I’m over here. Show him, Cynthia.”
A girl, no more than sixteen or seventeen appeared out of the gloom and grabbed Harry’s arm, leading him to a place by the right wall. Another girl was sitting on the floor, with Jess’ head on her lap, shining the flickering light from a mobile phone into Jess’ face.
Nigel strained his eyes, searching the darkness for the injured kid. Even if he would be unable to do anything for him, he might as well assess the damages.
“Hello. Could anyone show me where the other injured person is.”
The sounds of girlish voices talking at once, reached his ears from further inside the building.
“That’s Sandra’s guy. The tall one, from America.”
“He’s really cool. You know that blog? He’s the webmaster and -”
“Where is the other injured person?”
“I’ll show you.”
Another girl, slightly older this time, showed up, taking his arm, and eagerly dragged him along.
“It’s Liam. Look. He’s unconscious – at least I hope so. You don’t think – he’s dead?”
“Let me take a look.”
Three girls elbowed their way to him and raised their mobile phones, which gave off enough light to reveal a face, which in its rigidity might have belonged to a dead person. Nigel pressed his fingers to the boy’s neck, then breathed a sigh of relief. At least the pulse was fine. The light from the mobile phones weren’t enough to reveal the colour of the face, but at least the boy didn’t seem to be at death’s door. After probing the lump on the boy’s head, Nigel concluded that it might be concussion, not a skull fracture. That was alarming enough, if they couldn’t get help there soon.
He stared thoughtfully at the mobile phones which were flickering out one by one. It occurred to him that they shouldn’t be wasting the batteries like that. Why didn’t they call for help?
“Have you tried calling for help?”
An assenting murmur broke out among his young assistants.
“Yes. Of course. We’re not stupid. There’s no reception out here. We’ve tried everywhere inside this building and in case you’re wondering – it’s impossible to get out.”
Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. Nigel shook his head dejectedly. He’d better go and see how Jess was doing.
“Stay with him. You’ll have to keep him warm. Does anyone have a jacket or -”
He eyed their skimpy tops doubtfully. If he was going on an action like this one, he certainly wouldn’t have worn his swimming trunks or shorts, that was for sure. These girls were pierced practically everywhere, if he was interpreting the flashes of metal right. They wore little sleeveless tops, which left their bellies exposed and their arms bare. Sandra in that type of outfit might have brought a smile to Nigel’s face, but these girls were mostly not even out of their teens.
“No. It’s so hot outside. I’ll go and look for some – old blankets or sacks.”
“Never mind. Take this.”
He took off his own jacket and placed it over the boy’s upper body. That would have to do. If they didn’t get help soon, their worst concern wouldn’t be the cold anyway.
As he kneeled beside Harry, he could see that Jess was seriously injured, even judging by Harry’s face.
“What’s the problem?”
“It’s her arm. Look. It’s been dislocated. She’s in dreadful pain. Do you think you could -”
“Of course. Take it easy. You hold Jess and try to – distract her and I’ll pull it back into its socket. I’ve done this before, so no problem.”
“Will it hurt terribly?”
Jess sounded subdued and dazed, completely unlike her normal self. She wasn’t as forceful as Sandra, but decidedly assertive normally.
Nigel could imagine how she was feeling. The pain of a broken or dislocated arm was excruciating. He knew that from personal experience. At ten he’d broken his left arm falling out of a tree, and he’d passed out from the pain before reaching the hospital.
“I’m afraid so, but only for a moment and when it pops back in place, the pain will end right away. I swear. Ask Harry.”
“Nigel’s right, darling. Once it’s in place, you won’t feel it anymore.”
“Alright, no use putting it off any longer. Oh. Girls – Cynthia – is that your name? Try to get the others to move off some distance. If Jess cries out loudly, it’s ok. I’m not harming her. It’s just – very painful. Go on. Sit with Liam, all of you.”
Cynthia looked as if she might object, then with a tense face, she slunk off. The others followed. Soon only Harry sat with Jess resting on his lap. He’d pulled off his own jacket and placed it over Jess’ chest and abdomen leaving the arms free.
Nigel made eye contact with his friend and he could see Harry was prepared to do what it took. Harry grabbed Jess and held on, while Nigel grasped her dislocated arm and braced himself. The thought of the pain Jess was experiencing made him feel queasy too. This was one reason he’d opted to work as a pathologist, rather than face living, suffering patients. That and his fascination for research.
Eager to end Jess’ pain, he began to pull. One swift tug and there was an awful popping sound, accompanied by an unearthly shriek from Jess. The second after, the room was quiet again, eerily so. Jess had passed out from the pain, and Nigel could imagine that the teenagers were huddling together in shocked silence.
“It’s alright. Jess’ arm is back in place. It worked. She’ll be fine now.”
At least he hoped so. It all depended on when help could reach them. He was beginning to wonder where Sandra was and what she was doing.
Too furious now, to be frightened anymore, Sandra ran towards the car. She kept expecting pursuit, but she couldn’t hear anyone behind her. Those farmers might be moving ahead of her to cut her off, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Once she reached the car, she stood, straining her ears into the darkness around her. Nothing. Only now did she recall that Nigel had the car key.
That didn’t bother her much. Where she came from, you learned how to hotwire cars from the time you were eight or nine. Long before you could dream of driving one. She jumped into the driver’s seat and pulled out the wires, pleased that she hadn’t been able to afford an expensive car, like a Volvo. This old piece of junk was easy to – adapt to your own needs.
As soon as the engine roared, she stepped on the accelerator and rushed the engine harder than, frankly, the old thing could take, but fortunately it didn’t splutter and stop. She kept driving all the way out to the main road and kept driving far faster than she normally would, even at this time of night. As she got closer to the city, she realized that she might not need to get all the way there. Out here, there should be reception for her phone.
The seriousness of the situation had made her realize that she’d need to call in the police despite everything. She could only hope that D I Pereira and his partner – D I – whatshisface – wouldn’t be out for their blood, even after what they’d done or intended to do tonight. Actually, considering D I Pereira’s newly found conscience, she thought he might not. As long as he and his partner would be the only ones to arrive on the scene.
She tore out her mobile phone, hoping it wouldn’t have been damaged in the struggle earlier. To her relief, the display lit up and she had no trouble making the call. A sleepy voice greeted her.
“This is Sandra St Martin. Sorry to disturb you at this hour, but it’s an emergency.”
Instantly alert now, Pereira sat up in bed, wondering what had made the veterinarian and animal rights activist contact him.
“Alright. What’s the situation?”
“My friend Jess and – members of our group were out in the country for a peaceful demonstration against a chicken farm. Suddenly we were surrounded by a mob of angry farmers. They attacked us and injured at least two members of our group, including Jess. I returned home to wake my fiance and we contacted Jess’ fiance, Dr Cunningham and – we tried to free our friends. However, we were attacked again and my fiance and Dr Cunningham were captured.”
“I see. Have you called an ambulance?”
“No, not yet, I was hoping you could – help us.”
Pereira swore under his breath in his native Urdu then resigned himself to his fate. These people were doing brave, unrecognized work, and he felt he owed them all the assistance he could give.
“I’ll do my best. Listen, call an ambulance out there now. I’ll contact my partner and we’ll see if we can make those farmers let your friends go. You realize I can’t give you any guarantees you won’t be charged?”
“Yes, it’s alright. I’m just grateful if you don’t shoot us to death.”
“If there’s going to be any shooting done, it won’t be at you.”
“I’m glad you see things our way.”
“As you can understand, that’s not something I can – freely express.”
“I appreciate that. Thanks. Oh, some of our members are minors. Liam – the injured boy – is seventeen and one of the others is sixteen.”
She thought she heard something about brutal peasants attacking children, before she hung up, but at least Pereira seemed to be on their side.
Turning her car around, she waited until she saw a car coming in the same direction she was now facing. It wasn’t a police car with the lights on top, but she hoped it would be Pereira and the other fellow anyway.
The car’s headlights flashed at her and she flashed her own in response. A window was rolled down and a familiar voice called her name.
“Miss St Martin?”
He never could get her name pronounced the right way – making it sound like an English parish, rather than the French-sounding name she’d grown up with. Still, it brought back memories from school. Only her French teacher had used the right pronunciation – or rather the one a native Frenchwoman might have used.
“Yes. It’s me. Thank you for coming.”
“Stay behind us – not only on the road but once we get there.”
“Alright. The ambulance shouldn’t be far behind us now.”
The dirt track made Pereira’s partner swear colourfully out of concern for his shoes, but Pereira seemed more focused on the captives in the warehouse. Perhaps he was thinking about the cooped up animals as well.
They had wanted to make Sandra stay with the cars, but she absolutely refused. In the end, they contented themselves with telling her sternly to remain behind them.
Sandra wanted to get to work on the warehouse right away, but Pereira and Craig insisted on going up to the house first. Impatiently, she began pacing back and forth, listening to the sounds of the police officers banging on the front door. More lights came on inside and angry shouts could be heard from there.
The door swung open to reveal a fully dressed man brandishing a shotgun in the officers’ faces. Sandra could see Pereira and Craig taking a few steps backwards. She was wondering if they would pull their guns now, or if it was too late.
Instead, she could hear Pereira’s calm voice speaking up, with a note of authority.
“I’m Detective Inspector Pereira and this is my colleague D I Craig. Lower your weapon or we’ll be forced to charge you with obstruction of justice.”
For a while, Sandra thought the dreadful man would just fire into Pereira’s face. Many countrymen were prejudiced against the Pakistani, as she well knew. They felt the same about West Indians. She held her breath, hoping the amiable D I wouldn’t pay for his kindness with his life. Then the man seemed to falter and he lowered the weapon. Now she could see Craig angrily snatching the shotgun out of his hands and hold it at arm’s length.
“Thank you. We have reason to believe that you’re holding a number of people captive on your property, mr -”
“Mr Carter. Well? According to our information you are holding several people here, including a few minors. Some of those people are injured. If you don’t want to end up in more trouble, I suggest you let those people go, right away.”
“You listen to me, Perero or whatever your name is. Those snotty little sods were trespassing on our property. We thought – we’d just teach them a little lesson. If I’m supposed to let them go, I want to press charges against them for trespassing and damaging my property.”
“I’ll decide what charges will be brought, after I’ve inspected the premises. Shall we?”
The man walked down the stairs ahead of the police officers, followed by two other men, remarkably similar to him in clothing and stature. To Sandra, all three looked like inbred hillbillies in a movie set in the American south.
They unlocked the doors to the warehouse and dragged the doors open. After a sharp reminder from Pereira, they also turned on the overhead lights, which apparently could only be switched on from the outside.
Sandra pushed forward, ignoring Pereira’s orders and ran ahead of the men into the building.
“Nigel, Jess, Harry, everyone.”
Nigel got up and ran to meet her.
“How is Jess doing?”
“She’ll be alright now, I hope. I had to pull her arm back into its socket.”
“Ouch. Poor Jess.”
Sandra hurried over to her friend’s lifeless form. She glanced inquiringly at Harry, who nodded. At least Harry seemed to concur with Nigel.
“What about Liam?”
“I think it’s concussion, but the sooner he’s taken to a hospital the better. Jess too, of course.”
Sandra nodded, wondering what was taking the ambulance so long. It occurred to her that it might be stuck at the end of the road, unable to negotiate the muddy track. She said so, to Pereira who sent his partner back to give directions.
That taken care of, she made sure all the girls were alright. After tonight, she would seriously consider vetoing the involvement of any teenager in their actions. Their work was dangerous enough, without having to worry about minors getting hurt.
Having seen Liam and Jess, she was filled with rage towards the bullies who had hurt them. All those big, brawny men against one gawky boy. In fact, Liam reminded her a lot of Nigel at the same age. Those same men had also attacked Jess and dislocated her arm.
Suddenly, Sandra couldn’t take it any longer. She threw herself at the man who appeared to be in charge and began hitting him wildly. In her state of mind, she didn’t even think of drawing on her knowledge of karate. She was merely raining inexpert blows on him.
The man yelled angrily for help from the police. Strangely enough, Pereira seemed to be deaf and blind at the moment. He was rounding up the teenagers and ushering them outside.
Sandra’s fury spent itself and she felt like a fool. She hadn’t lost her temper like this since she was a teenager herself.
The farmer confronted Pereira.
“Hey, paki. Didn’t you hear me?”
Pereira glared sharply back at him, until the man broke eye contact.
“I said, didn’t you hear me?”
“What were you saying?”
“The nigger attacked me.”
“Excuse me? I still can’t seem to hear you.”
“That black girl over there attacked me.”
“Did she? I didn’t notice. And if I were you, I’d be careful with those accusations. Need I remind you that there are laws against racial discrimination in this country? In your position, I’d be extremely careful. You’re already in trouble for illegally detaining a group of people, including at least two minors. Don’t make things worse for yourself.”
“Bloody pakis. Decent English people can’t get justice in their own country.”
“I’m warning you, mr Carter. One more outburst from you and I’ll be forced to press charges against you, not only for racist remarks but also for obstruction and possibly other offenses.”
The farmer retreated into a sullen silence, glaring angrily at Pereira.
Craig returned, with the paramedics in tow. They carried Liam away, then returned for Jess, who was conscious by now and seemed to be feeling better.
“Thanks, Nigel. And you too, Harry. And Sandra. You were brilliant, all of you.”
Harry followed her out to the ambulance, clutching his father’s old medical bag under one arm.
Nigel pulled Sandra close, momentarily forgetting the other people present.
“You were magnificent, my love.”
Contemptuous snorts greeted his statement. Nigel suddenly recalled how that uncouth farmer had just referred to his fiancee as ‘nigger’. He let go of Sandra and advanced on the man.
“And you – if D I Pereira doesn’t press charges, I will. I won’t listen to anyone using that sort of language about my fiancee.”
“You’re shagging that nigger tart? Aren’t there enough English girls for stuck up toffs like you?”
This time, Nigel was the one who lost his temper. He shoved the farmer back against the wall and twisted the man’s arm in a way he’d been taught in the Navy.
“I suppose you’re not going to do anything about that either, copper?”
“About what, mr Carter? I distinctly heard you using offensive language against a lady. That’s all I’m concerned with. If you can’t stand up straight in your own warehouse, you can hardly blame me or this gentleman. May I suggest better shoes? Or perhaps less alcohol?”
A stream of abuse greeted Pereira’s outburst.
Still unable to believe the police were going to let the intruders get away with their crimes, Carter turned to Craig.
“You. You’re English, I hope. At least you’re white. Are you going to stand by while a decent English man is being attacked by this scum?”
“You heard my partner. Be careful with your accusations. You’re not doing yourself any good.”
“My brothers will testify -”
“Your brothers? I see. I’m sure they’ll testify to anything you like, mr Carter. Who do you think the court will put most stock in? My partner and myself – or you and your brothers? That’s it. You’re coming with us.”
Craig and Pereira began to herd the three farmers towards their car. At the moment, they felt it was more important to round up the three main suspects. They would have to take the statements of the activists later. According to miss St Martin, there had been several more people involved in the attack on the kids.
Harry watched the stretcher carrying Jess disappear down a corridor and sat down, prepared to wait a long time. It occurred to him that his relationship with his fiancee revolved around hospitals. He was a pathologist. They’d finally found each other and entered their relationship when he was a patient at the hospital. Even his and Nigel’s friendship, involved hospitals somehow. Perhaps it was time they found a new centre for their relations.
In any case, he knew he saw far too little of Jess and suddenly, felt a strong urge to do something about that. Why shouldn’t they live together? They were both adults and he knew his mother was independent and fit enough to live on her own. He resolved to ask Jess as soon as he was allowed to see her.
As it happened, Jess wasn’t as badly injured as he had feared and it wasn’t that long until he was given permission to see her. To his surprise, she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital to spend the night. She looked far healthier than she had when the paramedics had driven off with her, and there was even a smile on her lips. Her arm was supported by a sling, but it hadn’t been placed in a cast.
“Hello, Harry. Don’t look so surprised. Nigel put me back together again. There wasn’t much else the doctor could do.”
“They just put it in a sling?”
Jess made a face.
“And shot me up with anesthetic, but, yes, that was all. They said I could go home.”
“I’ll go with you.”
They had to call a taxi, and since neither of them had any cash, there was an embarrassing moment, while Harry ran upstairs to Jess’ flat and found some money to pay off the driver. The man kept watching Jess rather rudely, but when Harry arrived, slightly out of breath and handed him the money, he merely took it and drove off again.
More slowly than Harry a moment ago, they walked up the stairs. Walking slightly behind Jess, Harry kept an anxious eye on her. She didn’t limp or falter, but he had a feeling she was exhausted, which wasn’t surprising after what she’d been through.
He insisted she go to bed right away, and though she cast him a rather long glance, she didn’t argue. After bringing her a cup of tea and a sandwich, Harry sat down on the side of the bed, looking down on her with a sense of relief. She was alright. He was wondering if she too was dwelling on the night her first fiance had been shot dead by the police. It would be strange if she didn’t, but whatever was on her mind, she didn’t say anything about that.
After a while, she put aside the cup and smiled. Harry shot up and took the cup. A look of impatience flew across Jess features.
“Alright. How do you feel? Any pain?”
“No, it’s alright. You know, you might as well come to bed too. I know it’s a bit narrow, but never mind.”
A hesitant smile played on Harry’s lips. He sometimes did spend the night at her place, but usually only when his mother was away. It was silly really. At his age, his mother would have more reason to worry if he didn’t spend the night with a girlfriend now and again.
“Alright. Oh, Jess – I was thinking – don’t you think we should get a place of our own and live together? Only the other day, Nigel was saying -”
“That they’re looking for a house. I know. Yes. I’d love to. There’s no reason to wait for my degree. Unless you expect being waited on hand and foot, like your mother does.”
“You know, I could get used to not being waited on. To tell the truth, it makes me feel a little silly. At my age.”
“In that case – I’d love to. Sandra was saying she’d like a big house in the country with a large garden.”
“If that’s what you want, then we should have one too, just the same. I was just saying to Nigel that we might as well get something really big, like a factory or a farm and convert it into flats or – rather two houses. It would be much cheaper and -”
“And we’d have our friends close by. You won’t get any argument from me. I just think we need to find a cottage or something for my sister. She’s always talking about getting away from everything.”
“A village of our own.”
“Or – we could just get a little place for you and me.”
“I’d live anywhere, as long as it was with you.”
“Then we’d better find something right away.”
“Before the wedding?”
“Unless you mind? Weddings and so on – it’s not really me. What do you think?”
“I could see you in a white dress with a veil and flowers and -”
“Did you read Jane Austen when you were a child?”
Harry’s long face told Jess she’d guessed correctly.
“I read Biggles and Edith Nesbit and Tolkien and all kinds of things as well. It was just that mum’s old books were all over the place so I sometimes read Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables and whatever else she had.”
“I’m not making fun of you. My sister and I read Biggles too. I think everyone did.”
“So we’ll have that wedding then?”
“Does it mean that much to you?”
“Well, it’s mum, really. I think it would mean a lot to her.”
Jess sighed. That was the problem with mothers. They adored weddings. On the other hand, if she and Harry were lucky, they could probably get their mothers to handle most of the arrangements, since they did enjoy it so much.
“My mum too. Very well. I’ll wear that stupid white dress and everything, if I can get a male stripper for my shower.”
Harry blushed. He had a feeling that for his stag party they wouldn’t have strippers, since he was guessing Jess would mind. On the other hand, the male stripper didn’t bother him, as long as he and Jess finally could move in together. Since he only had one really close friend, he thought he and Nigel and perhaps Leo, would just have a few drinks and celebrate. He wasn’t too keen on all the foolish stunts he knew some of his class mates had been submitted to before their marriages.
“You and Sandra have as many male strippers as you like, as long as we finally get married.”
Jess’ lips briefly touched his, then she pulled back and watched him keenly for a moment.
“Never mind. As long as I get you, I don’t really need any strippers. Besides, no one’s as cute as you.”
Harry hurriedly protested that she was cuter and one thing led to the other and for the time being, the wedding plans were laid aside.
On Thursday morning Mrs Townsend was up early. She hadn’t told her son about her intentions and she wasn’t going to, at least not for a while. This was something she had to do, but she didn’t want her son to be reminded of anything connected to her marriage and his missing father. Her long trip would mean changing buses twice on each trip, but she didn’t see any other solution. Her neighbour mrs Digby didn’t have a car either, and the only person she knew who might drive her all the way, was her son Nigel.
When she finally arrived at her destination, she felt out of place and slightly disoriented. There was a long line of visitors waiting to be allowed inside. Most of them were women of all ages, and children. The line moved slowly, but eventually, it was her turn. Her handbag was taken from her and minutely searched. The guard even used a metal detector on her, while she stood awkwardly waiting. In the end, they handed her handbag back to her and waved her through.
She was taken aside by a woman who introduced herself as the prison clergywoman. Mrs Townsend didn’t really hold with women of the cloth, but this one seemed pleasant enough. She explained that it was unusual for a prisoner awaiting trial to be allowed visitors, but under the circumstances, it had been decided that an exception could be granted.
Following the woman and two guards, she was shown to the prison infirmary. There was a long row of beds. Only three were occupied. In one, a young man was lying, apparently unconcious. In the bed at the far end of the row by the windows, there was a man of advanced age, with a vacant look on his face. Mrs Townsend recognized senile dementia when she saw it. The poor old man might as well not have been there.
The third bed held her own estranged husband, Ian. It had been so many years since she’d last seen him, she’d come to expect he’d look just the same as he had on that day, or in the photos she still kept, but rarely looked at. He was conscious and was watching her attentively. A wave of emotions flooded over her and she recalled all the harsh words exchanged between them. But that was – half a lifetime away. The reason for her visit had nothing to do with that.
Forcing herself to remain calm, she resolutely walked across to her ex-husband’s bed and sat down on the chair beside it.
“I must say I didn’t expect to see you again, but it was a nice surprise, when they told me.”
“I wasn’t sure you’d agree to see me.”
“Why not? You’re looking well.”
“No need to be polite. I know I’ve looked better, but all things considered -”
“You saw Nigel.”
“Yes. He’s my son. I – know I’ve neglected him for far too long.”
“And after you’d seen him, you – killed my brother.”
“Martha, I’m truly sorry. I never meant for that to happen.”
“I’ve come to ask you why. That’s all I need to know. I’m not here to make a scene. Just tell me why and I’ll leave you alone.”
“I think I deserve to know the truth.”
“He never gave our marriage a chance. It was always Clive thinks, Clive wants – Clive, Clive, Clive.”
“He was my brother – but I have to admit, he never made much effort to have his own life.”
Ian studied his ex-wife warily, struggling against the numbing fatigue. It wasn’t just the healing process, it was the strain of his knowledge. Was it fair to burden Martha with the truth about what Clive had done to their son? His own nephew. On the other hand, did he have the right to deny her the truth, as she had just reminded him?
“There’s something you might not know about Clive.”
“I know – they found some dreadful images on that computer of his. I’m not naive. I read the papers. A man who – collects such images, usually – doesn’t content himself with looking. Ian – whatever you have to say, I – should like to hear it. Don’t be concerned about my health. As Nigel might have told you, I’m much better.”
“I – when I spoke to the boy, I realized Clive had – molested him. Repeatedly over several years. I went to confront Clive and – he didn’t even bother denying it. He laughed at me. Said some – unspeakable things. I – lost my temper, but – I swear to you, I never intended to kill him.”
Martha’s face had lost all colour. She had thought she was prepared to take whatever truth Ian had to tell her, but now that she knew, she felt her throat constrict and a sharp pain shot through her chest. Pressing her hand to her heart, she looked away and tried her best to come to terms with the truth. Her beloved brother had grossly abused her trust. He’d – taken advantage of her little boy and – Blinking away a few tears, she forced herself to face her ex-husband again.
“I see. Thank you for telling me.”
“Martha – I’m terribly sorry. I wish – if I’d been a better father to Nigel – if only he’d confided in me -”
“Ian – I understand. I wish he’d told me, but – I suppose no boy wants his parents to know such a -”
She swallowed hard. Her rasping breath alarmed Ian and he considered calling for the nurse. Instead, he tentatively reached for her hand and held it. She didn’t snatch it back.
“Martha, I’m sorry I wasn’t a better husband to you.”
She nodded absently, as if her mind was only partially on what he was saying. When she’d collected herself, she got up, with an effort and glanced around for the door.
Again, Ian considered calling the nurse, but reluctant to end their meeting, he waited, while Martha stood above his bed, seemingly not quite ready to go just yet.
“If – if I may, I might return and visit you again.”
“I’d like that.”
The trip back was a strain on mrs Townsend, and when she returned to her house, she went to bed immediately. In the morning, she was feeling a little better, at least physically, and she felt ready to move on to the next stage in the course she’d set herself. Waiting until the early evening, she rang her son and asked if he might drop by later that evening, or the following day.
Anxiously, Nigel agreed to come over right away. His mother’s voice had sounded so faint, he was concerned she’d taken a turn for the worse.
She was waiting for him, when he arrived, having already put the kettle on. While the water was boiling, she went about the familiar ritual, as if seeking solace in that. After she’d served the tea and biscuits, as usual, her eyes sought out Nigel’s.
“Are you alright, mum?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. Nigel – I went to see your father yesterday.”
Uneasily, Nigel studied her face for any indication of what might come next. For once, he was unable to read his mother.
“It was strange – seeing him after all these years. He’d changed so much. It was as if he wasn’t the same man anymore. Or perhaps one forgets.”
“I noticed he had changed too.”
“Nigel, I – asked him about why he killed Clive and -”
A sharp pain shot through Nigel and he knew. His father had told his mother and now – she was going to ask him about it. Naturally, considering how close she and Clive had been, she would find it difficult to believe and he – would be forced to disillusion her. It was unbearable. He couldn’t tell her. Not his mother.
“I – wish you’d told me. Oh, I understand why you felt you couldn’t, but – if you had – I do hope you realize I would have believed you and -”
Overcome by sobbing, she broke off, burying her face in her hands. Nigel got up, wavering between making his escape or rushing to his mother’s side. In the end, his love for her won out. He stood awkwardly over her, patting her hair. When this seemed to make no impression, he kneeled in front of her and put his arms around her. She’d always been as thin as a rake, but he didn’t remember her being quite this bony. This realization made him feel even more concerned about her.
“I’m sorry, mum. I know I should have – I knew it was wrong but -”
“You can’t believe I’m blaming you. Darling, I know it wasn’t your fault. I just can’t believe Clive could be so – Now I see that it was all a lie. My own brother. His own nephew.”
Helplessly, Nigel went on holding his mother, crying softly, unable to say anything. It was a long time before either of them was able to calm down.
Nigel wished he could have kept his secret from his mother and from his father too, but he knew that it was too late for that. He just had to find a way to live with how things had turned out. At least he knew he never would have to dread running into Clive again. If only it hadn’t come at such a high price.
Less than a week later, he had second shock, not quite as bad, when his sister, Lydia, announced her imminent arrival, along with her two daughters. Nigel was surprised the boy wasn’t coming, especially since he was the youngest, but he assumed he would learn the truth when Lydia arrived.
He and Sandra drove his mother out to the airport to pick Lydia and the girls up. Though he’d seen the girls in photos, as they were growing up, the last time he’d actually seen them in real life, had been at their christenings. Now they were teenagers, looking almost exactly like Sandra’s and Jess’ young friends from the animal rights group, only some years younger. Nigel had difficulty telling them apart.
Both were eerily like Lydia at that age, but louder and less well-behaved, or so it seemed to Nigel.
Lydia had never met Sandra, but to Nigel’s relief, the women immediately took to each other. They drove back to mrs Townsend’s house and despite the lack of space, Lydia and the girls made themselves at home. It seemed their mother was very happy to see her daughter again, not to mention her granddaughters.
Nigel offered to carry Lydia’s luggage upstairs and she accepted his help gratefully. To his surprise, rather than staying downstairs with her mother, she followed him up the stairs and when he went into her room, she closed the door behind them.
Bemusedly, he put down the suitcases and faced his sister. It was obvious something was on her mind.
“Welcome back, Lydia. You’re looking good.”
“So do you. Sandra must be good for you.”
“You have no idea.”
“No. I suppose I’ve lost touch in all these years. Actually, I’m not going to tell mum just yet, so I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention it either, but – I’m not going back. It’s over between me and Travis. We’re getting a divorce. Ian’s going to stay with his dad, but both girls said they wanted to come with me. You have no idea how relieved I was. They have all their friends there and the riding stable and -”
“I didn’t realize things were so bad. Was he having an affair?”
“Probably. In fact, it would be more than one. I don’t know. It’s just that – in the end I felt we didn’t even know each other. We didn’t see eye to eye on anything. Suddenly I felt homesick. I missed mum and you and – England.”
“I suppose there’s no place like home.”
“Nigel – can I ask you something – personal?”
He smiled cagily. If Lydia too wanted to know about Clive, he wasn’t sure what he’d tell her.
“I suppose so. You know, this has to be a first. In the past you never asked my permission first.”
“You’ve grown so tall I almost forget who’s the eldest.”
“You think I’ve grown?”
“Yes. When I left you were – what ?- sixteen? What a fool I was to leave when I was so young. It all seemed like an adventure.”
“That’s a good time to have adventures – when you’re young. I enjoyed America for a while, but in the end – I suppose this is where I want to be. Of course, I was lucky enough to find Sandra again.”
“Oh, that’s right. It’s that Sandra. Your first girlfriend.”
Lydia’s smile died on her lips as she recalled that she still hadn’t dared to ask her question. Bracing herself, she decided to skip the preliminaries.
“I read about Clive – what he was accused of. Then dad – killed him. Forgive me for asking, but did – Clive – abuse you?”
Faced with a direct question, Nigel found it impossible to lie. He nodded sadly, somehow resigning himself to the situation. Lydia was his sister. No matter how much he would have liked to keep her ignorant of his secret, he didn’t think he had the right to do so.
She gasped and threw herself into his arms. It was a while before either of them felt up to speaking again.
“You know, I – had a suspicion this might have happened. He was always – touching you and always close to you. At the time, I didn’t really know that – grownups could – do that to children, but when I found out about that, I – I don’t suppose you remember, but I actually tried to ask you about it.”
Nigel’s face tensed up. He did recall and he’d been hoping Lydia had forgotten. She’d asked him if he really liked to spend so much time with Clive and he’d countered with another question. Why shouldn’t he want to – and so on. She’d made a few more attempts, but he’d always denied anything was wrong and in the end, she’d given up.
“I do remember, but – I just didn’t know how to tell you. If you’d known, I was afraid you’d tease me or be – disgusted by me. I was just too ashamed.”
“I’m sorry. When you told me off like that, I was ashamed of my suspicions and I assumed you really were that close to Clive. I was glad for your sake, since you didn’t have an easy time with dad. Not that I did either, but what did it matter? I had mum and the aunts and my friends. It must have been worse for you, being a boy.”
“I was so afraid dad would find out. Can you imagine how he’d have reacted? He was always talking about poofs and pansies and nancy boys and how he could always spot one of those no matter how they tried to hide. I was afraid he’d think – and I know he was afraid I was a poof. I think that was why I joined the Navy – so he’d be proud of me. Then – when we talked about it after he’d – shot Clive – he said he wouldn’t have blamed me at all. He would have made sure Clive never had a chance to go near me again.”
“I wish you’d told me. No matter how much mum cared about Clive, I would have tried to do something.”
Her face crumpled up and she began to cry again. Nigel blinked to clear his own sight and held on to his sister. If he’d known how his family would react, would he have been able to confide in one of them? He didn’t think so. His shame had run too deeply for that. It had all been so overwhelming and he didn’t think anything would have helped, unless someone had caught Clive in the act.
Now that the truth was out, he was relieved. His family accepted him. No one blamed him for what had happened. He didn’t think he’d tell Lydia about his attempted suicide. Fortunately, he’d been able to keep that from his mother and he certainly wasn’t going to tell his father either. It had to end sometime. Now was as good a time as any, with his entire family in the same country again. With Clive gone, everything was the way it was supposed to be. Even if he couldn’t forget, he’d do his best to leave the past behind. Now that he had Sandra, he really thought he could.
When Lydia had stopped crying, they joined the rest of the family downstairs. No one seemed to find their long absence strange. The girls were busy stuffing their faces with their grandmother’s cake and Sandra was being treated to the family photo album. At least he hoped she’d see it as a treat. There were some pretty silly pictures there, which he and Lydia would have preferred to quietly lose somewhere, but all in all, Nigel thought he could live with Sandra seeing them.
Her smile greeting him, made him smile in return. He sat down beside her, taking her hand. Looking around, he felt at home again, as he never could when Clive was still alive. It was good to be home and to have his family with him. Soon he might have a family of his own. For the first time in years, he dared to face the future again, without feeling it necessary to bury himself in his work. He had never expected as much.