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Search, part 2; Steve Lamb

(March 01, 2017)

Chapters 1 and 2 of Steve's serialised novel are available here

Search,
by Steve Lamb

Chapter 3

Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England.By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

An hour later Dave found himself sitting in his driving seat in the hospital car park, he was unsure exactly what had taken place in the time since he had learned of his mother’s death. He knew that he had remained alone in that curtained cubicle, not knowing what to do, for too long. Eventually he had been taken to another office with another member of the hospital staff. Someone had been speaking and it had not been him. His mind had been lost for a little time. He had thought of nothing specific but his head had been troubled by abstract emotions swirling like fast moving and threatening clouds.He knew he must return in the morning; formalities must be discussed and protocols observed. He had supported numerous grieving next of kin over the years and knew the ropes but that had always been a professional chore. Now he was the grieving relative. Was he grieving? He did not know what this state of emotional limbo was exactly?

He reached into the glove compartment where he had left his mobile, switched it on and rang Julie. The phone was answered immediately.

Dave, are you alright? How’re things?”

Not good I’m afraid love. She’d died before I got to the hospital….” As he said the words his throat tightened as if a ligature was being closed around his neck. He snorted back the tears that threatened to ambush him, swallowed with difficulty and continued. “Sorry love, it just sort of hit me. Saying it made it real somehow.”

Dave, are you okay? Where are you?”

I’m sitting in my car still at the hospital, trying to think straight. I’ve got to come back here in the morning. There’s things to sort out….. I should be better than this.”

Don’t be silly. What do you expect? You’ve lost your mother. Don’t talk about it now. There’ll be time for that later. You need to rest and get a hot drink and a cake or a biscuit. You know it’s what you always recommend for people who have had a shock. It’s good advice. You’re going to need your strength. Where are you going to go?”

I could stay at Mom’s, although there’s a Premier Inn that I passed on my way here; but I think I ought to call at Jane’s first. She’ll be waiting for some news and I…..”

Listen to me. Go and check in to the Premier Inn. Get a coffee and a doughnut and then try and get a few hours sleep. Tomorrow will be difficult enough; you will only make it impossible if you are in a mess before it starts. Leave Jane to me. I’ll ring her and say you will call tomorrow before returning to the hospital. You can check your Mom’s place then as well. Are you listening? I do love you; I wish I was with you.”

Thanks. You’re right. And I love you too and the kids. Give them a hug for me. I think they’ll be upset. I’ll go now but I’ll speak in the morning about 7.00 if that’s okay.”

They will be upset. It would be horrible if they weren’t. Speak to you tomorrow and I’ll speak to Jane now. Bye love.”

Too late he remembered about the investigation and the questions that had been punctuating his concerns for his mother. Before dropping the mobile onto the passenger seat, he sent a text to Bill Faulkener briefly telling him his news and asking for the latest on the body in the forest. As he turned right out of the front gates of the hospital the phone pinged and he guessed that Bill was sitting up late with a glass of whisky mulling over the events of his day. He was right: when he stopped at the petrol station next to the Premier Inn to buy take away coffee and a sugary cake he read the reply. Bill’s sympathy was sincere but it was the additional message that made Dave stop abruptly half way down the aisle to the check out. Another search was planned for the next day. This time they would comb the overgrown area of the Common, which stretched between town and the industrial estate nearby. This was less than a mile from his home. Why? They’d found the body. What more was there to search for? Who was deciding what areas were to be searched anyway? What was the intelligence directing the efforts of the police?

He checked in at the hotel mechanically and undressed like an automaton before pulling the quilt over his shoulders and closing his eyes. Too much had happened since the day had begun and his mind was a whirlpool of images and sounds and memories and regrets. Against all of his expectations he did fall asleep and then suffered a night of strange dreams. They were often without logic: a forest would become a hospital and then the living room at home and finally a forest again. His mother featured strongly and she was being threatened and then chased. He was held back by restraints and could not help her. Then the screams of children wiped all coherent images away: “Not my eyes, not my eyes, not my eyes!” He came to again and again, soaking wet and dry mouthed but always sleep recaptured him before he reached full consciousness. Somewhere in that surreal narrative he came to terms with the events of the preceding 18 hours. When he woke fully at just after six he knew that once again he would be able to cope.

He stood in the warm shower for 10 minutes trying to plan his day. He had to see Jane, he knew she would not criticise him to his face but her eyes would tell a different story. She would be right as she always had been. He had not been a good enough son. He wanted to speak to Bill but contacting the station was also essential. They would be expecting him at eight o’clock. Compassionate leave would be automatic of course but still he had to ring in. He was due to speak to Julie at seven. He couldn’t go back to the hospital before nine at the earliest. When would the body be released? There were all the arrangements for the funeral to be made. And behind everything was the ongoing police operation. Were they searching for another child? Who was the child they found yesterday? What had happened to the eyes? Were his children safe?

He turned the water thermostat to cold and shocked himself out of the spiralling chaos of disorderly thoughts. He had just enough time for a bacon sandwich and a coffee before checking out and ringing Julie from his car. As on the previous night, the phone was answered on the first ring.

Hello love, how are you this morning. Did you sleep?”

Hi Julie, it’s nice to hear your voice. I’m good and I slept but it was a pretty weird kind of sleep. Are the children fine?” Irrationally he held his breath as she answered.

Oh they’re still asleep. I’ll wake them at half past to tell them about their Nan. Don’t worry about them, they’re good kids. Resilient! I told Jane you’d either call or ring this morning. What are you going to do?”

I’ll go to Mom’s now and Jane will see me then. She doesn’t miss much. We’ll take it from there. Probably I’ll go in for a chat and to face the music when the children have gone to school. Then I’ll go to the hospital and find out what’s what. I’ve got no proper recall of what they told me last night. I’ve got to contact the station as well to get my bereavement leave sorted. I’ll try and get back to you about lunchtime.”

Oh love I’m glad you’re okay, I was worried last night. You seemed so out of it. Are you coming back today or what?”

Let’s talk about that later. Is twelve o’clock okay? I’ll text if there’s a problem and you do the same. Good luck with the kids. I’d better go now and get started… I wish I wish I could give you a hug and squeeze you tight.”

Mmm I know what you mean. It’s horrible being so far apart when you want to help. Never mind it’ll soon be over. Love you.

 

Chapter 4

It had been a good street in which to spend your childhood. As he parked outside number 17 he looked over to the lamp-post that had been the base for chase games, stand-in cricket stumps, and an illuminated meeting place at different times in his early life. He sighed and pulled himself to his feet on the pavement in front of the pocket handkerchief front garden that his mother had tended religiously. How long before it looked as forlorn as he felt this grey morning? The curtains to the house next door were being pulled back as he stood contemplating what had once been his home. Jane waved to him and opened the window.

I’m so sorry Dave. Julie rang last night. I can’t believe she’s gone. Are you coming in?”

Thanks Jane. I’m all at sea as well. What time do the kids go to school?”

Half eight, do you want to have a coffee then?”

Do you mind?”

I’d mind if you didn’t. See you later.”

The front door creaked as he turned the Yale and pushed. Already the house felt like an abandoned property. The noise of the closing door echoed in the bleak emptiness of his first home. He stood alone but could sense the life only recently taken from this place. He was a straightforward man who did not believe in ghosts but for a moment he was attacked by gentle spirits swirling around him. His throat tightened again and he sniffed back the tears that threatened to break his careful composure. He stiffened at the sound of a floor board creaking upstairs but then also heard the central heating boiler and he knew it was only the house waking up to a new day. He walked down the hall to the kitchen and opened the boiler cover. Turning the central heating and hot water switches off, he paused, feeling the significance of every little action.

The buzzing of his mobile phone restored him to purposeful activity. He straightened up and pressed the green button at the same time as he saw that he was being called from the station. The sergeant’s old-fashioned kindliness was a restorative and it removed one concern from Dave’s list of worries to be addressed that morning. He was on immediate bereavement leave and Bill would be the go-between if there was anything that needed urgent attention. He wouldn’t say anything about the current investigation and advised Dave to put it out of his mind. He was a son first and a policeman afterwards. Do what had to be done and return to work when he was ready to give 100%.

When the conversation ended Dave went to his mother’s bureau to get the funeral file as she had called it. He gripped the handle and remembered how special this piece of furniture had always been. It had been his parents’ private place and had always been kept locked by his father. How easy it was to pull the drop leaf down but how strange it felt, like everything else this morning. The green file was where he expected it to be as his mother had explained many times. Thank goodness for her methodical nature. He expected that arrangements for her funeral would be itemised and he would give her everything she had wanted. It would be his last chance not to let her down.

The house phone rang just as he was about to open the file. Time had flown and Jane had coffee on the table. Dave slammed the front door shut and holding the file under his arm crossed the adjoining garden. Jane stepped out to hug him and they stayed in hold wordlessly but rocking gently until Dave dropped the file. The two of them had to scrabble to recover all the documents that had been filed so carefully. The breeze played games with an invoice and unconsciously they laughed like children playing in the street as they chased it. They had been those children playing decades previously on this street. Eventually all papers were safe and they were sitting in Jane’s kitchen sipping coffee and trying to put some order to the file of instructions, wishes and arrangements.

She seems to have thought of everything and made provisional arrangements for most things. Even the service details for the chapel and the crem have been drafted.”

I knew it had become a sort of hobby for her,” Jane replied. “But she was never maudlin about it. It was typical of her, so practical. You’re the same you know.”

I was dreading speaking to you. I hated the thought of you looking at me as if I’d let her down. I know I could have done better but …”

You are an idiot. You know you were a good son even if you want to beat yourself up now. It’s only natural though. Guilt is a big proportion of grief. You know that. You must have seen enough in your job…”

Her eyes were open and direct as she looked at his troubled face bowed before her. She loved seeing him, even like this. It was something special to feel your whole life held in a moment and with Dave that was how it seemed. They had walked to school together every day for fourteen years and had always shared hopes, achievements and disappointments. It wasn’t the same now but this unexpected death had brought back to life their sharing of significant experience.

He shook himself like a dog struggling out of a river and started to put the documents back into the file. The last sheet was a ‘to-do’ list his mother had prepared that would give clear purpose to his day. The first stop would be the hospital and then the funeral parlour on Compton Street. The list of phone calls would be tackled later.

 

Chapter 5

There was no autumnal glory spreading across the ragged marshland, the tussock grass and the unkempt woodland. The old gold and mulberry hues of October had been forgotten, memories washed away by autumn gales attacking from the west under cover of heavy skies. In the forest on the previous day the heavy drizzle had been a constant irritation. Today’s weather was an assault to be endured. The line of police officers plodded along; with rain on their backs they were beating the undergrowth studiously. Many of them had spent the previous day similarly searching; consecutive days of the same mind numbing activity.

Bill Faulkner worked diligently. At the same time he was thinking about his friend whose elderly mother had died many miles away while they were involved in yesterday’s search. They had been side by side in the forest when the child’s body had been found. He glanced to his left where young Brian Jones had stopped and was using his staff to lever up what looked like an abandoned car bonnet. With an expression of disgust he dropped the bonnet and moved on. Bill relaxed. It had been Brian who had found the child’s body. By the look of his pale face and the dark shadows under red-rimmed eyes, he had not coped well with the experience. At the time, he had been troubled by seeing the damage to the child’s eyes, but after de-briefing by DS Johnston he had said no more.

When the whistle blew he stopped suddenly and snapped at Brian who was still moving trance-like in the direction of the distant factories.

Stand fast, stand fast, stand fast…” more clearly than in the muffled environment of the forestry he could hear the instruction repeated along the line even though the heavy rain was providing a noisy soundtrack. The megaphone crackled and DI Rudge’s voice blared across the wasteland of brambles and stunted trees. Brian’s back stiffened. He had not forgotten the harsh words of Ken Rudge on the previous day.

We have new information. We are looking for an abandoned car. Repeat. We are looking for an abandoned car, probably abandoned some time ago. Stop and use your whistle if you have anything to report. Do not investigate. Stand your ground. Be vigilant. Start the search again when you hear two blasts.”

There was no time for the restart signal to be given as by then Brian Jones for the second day running was blowing his whistle. This time there was one long blast and then silence.

Stand your ground. Stand your ground.” As the megaphone lapsed into a wheezing silence clumsy feet could be heard stumbling in their direction. Other officers along the line turned and squinted into the rain to see who had signalled. Brian was holding his staff high to show he was responsible and DI Rudge recognised him immediately.

Where’s the bloody car lad?”

Not the car sir, but I just passed a car bonnet. I thought you would want that to be reported.” His voice was firm even though he looked anything but confident. He was speaking again to the officer who had told him his actions might lead to another search for another body.

You’re right son. Where is it? Let’s have a look.”

They bent their heads as they retraced Brian’s steps now moving directly into the fierce rain. Brian pointed with his staff.

DI Rudge looked where he was directed and then quickly scanned the area and tried to work out where the rest of the wrecked car had been dumped. There were no wheel tracks to guide him but there wasn’t much choice either. Between the current search area and the road across the Common were two areas of overgrown bushes and brambles and one spinney. Apart from these three possible hiding places there was nowhere out of plain sight.

Right lad, I want you to get over to DS Savage, just follow the search line. She’s got the megaphone now. You’ll see her. Tell her to send searchers to those two areas of bush and scrub. See there and over there to the extreme right. If the car is found they have to whistle and that’s all. I want the officers closest to us to go straight to that bit of woodland. Tell her I’ll sort that after she’s directed the rest away from here. Tell her I need at least 15 officers as well as you, me and her. Then you get back to me fast. I want you close by me. Go on then, get a move on.”

The bedraggled line of officers continued to wait, as usual they understood very little about the search and the pause. They saw Brian Jones running and stumbling along the line but heard nothing of his hurried conversation with Rudge’s deputy. When the megaphone howled their instructions officers from left and right moved away haphazardly crossing rough land towards their new target areas. Those remaining were called together and then sent to wait at the thicket of misshapen trees. Ken Rudge’s authority was clear because this advance was purposeful and speedy. By the time Brian and DS Savage caught up with them, the line had reformed and a systematic search of the woodland had begun.

Right, get to it. Don’t lose sight of the officers to your left and right. Sound your whistles if you see anything. Anything!”

As Brian struggled to catch his breath he could see Bill Faulkner looking back and nodding to him and then he forced his way past low hanging branches and disappeared.

We’ll walk the perimeter, keep our eyes open and listen out for a whistle. Keep up lad.” Rudge was about to say something else when whistles sounded across the bleak wasteland. The sound was not from the thicket but from their right, from close to the road itself. Three or four whistles had sounded almost at the same time. “Gill stay here, it could be a false alarm. Use the megaphone and pause the search…”

Whatever else he was going to say remained unsaid because whistles were now being sounded in the wood itself. Again three or four whistles sounded one after the other in quick succession.

Stand fast, stand fast!” the words were hardly out of her mouth before Rudge pulled the megaphone from her hands and his parade ground tones were heard above the wind and rain. “All officers stand fast! Remain where you are.”

I’ll follow up this one sir. You take the boy.” With a nod the senior officer started off as quickly as he could towards the area where the first whistles had been sounded. Brian, swallowing the indignity of being treated like a schoolboy, overtook him and ran ahead. If anybody had been able to watch from above they might have enjoyed the obvious discomfort of officers stumbling across difficult terrain trying to perform professionally but looking amateurish. DS Savage turned and pushed her way between two stunted oak trees and into the thicket.

Over here ma’am,” somebody shouted in front and to her left. They could hear her crashing through the undergrowth but she could hear nothing until the harsh sound of somebody retching grabbed her attention. She knew that she had the crime scene and she feared that yet again there was a death and worse to investigate.

To be continued...

Steve Lamb, March 2017

Chapters 1 and 2 of Steve's serialised novel are available here

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2017
 

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