On the Outside
“Duffy!” Jan called, and hastened her step slightly to reach the nurse before she could escape back into resusc.
Duffy paused and turned at the doorway, her expression solemn; a mixture of exhaustion, both physical and emotional, and determination to complete the shift without breaking down into tears. Jan felt the same way, though for a different reason. While Duffy was thinking about poor Nikki Marshall’s attack, and undoubtedly her husband’s barely more than a year ago, Jan’s thoughts were on her earlier row with Charlie.
“Could you please ask Charlie to spare me a few moments in his office?”
“He’s busy; we,” and Duffy put enough emphasis on the word to make it clear she excluded Jan from the term, “all are”.
“I understand that, but it really won’t take long…” Sensing that Duffy was entirely unmoved by her plea, Jan sighed. “Please?”
Duffy pushed against the door, opening it a number of inches, “I’ll pass on the message that you want to see him, okay?” then walked through it, not waiting for Jan to respond.
“Thank you” Jan muttered to the swinging door; and as it came to a rest she peered through the glass panel to see Duffy whispering something to Charlie. A shot of jealousy ripped through her as she saw them together. Duffy’s hand resting lightly on his forearm, his face leaned close to hers; it was a level of intimacy foreign to Jan, to be so close to someone and them not be your lover. And she knew that to be the case, she believed the assertion that they were ’just good friends’ despite the connotations that phrase had.
She herself had few friends, and none she would consider herself nearly as close to as Charlie was to Duffy, or even Max. It was not a situation born of choice, she longed for someone to be close to, someone who understood her and forgave her her faults but she never seemed able to connect to people. Frivolous girly chats about clothes and hair bored her, she was yet to meet a woman whom she both liked as a person, and felt intellectually compatible with. The men she encountered at work were either subordinates or adversaries, which led to more complications, and she spent so little time outside of work. An evening every now and again at a supper club supplied some chance of a social life but it was rare she met anyone she would want to see again. Except Charlie.
If only he’d been pilot as he’d joked. There was a chance with him, a good chance; she could feel it. He was so much of what she was looking for, someone she bonded with immediately, who made her laugh and relax and God knows that was feat in itself. Intelligent but not arrogant about it, passionate in his beliefs but not radical, sensitive and genuine… a soul mate? Certainly the closest she’d been to finding one since her marriage broke down fifteen years ago. And as she thought about Steven, and everything she’d lost when then broke up, she realised she was jealous of Duffy for more than just her relationship with Charlie…
Inside the resuscitation room Charlie turned to glance back through the window at Jan, his face unsmiling, and his eyes refusing to light up the way they’d been doing only a few short hours ago. He turned back to Duffy, said something Jan couldn’t lip read, and Duffy gave his arm a quick squeeze. Jan turned away.
In a way, a strange perverse way, Jan almost wished that Duffy had been the cause of her break up with Charlie. When Steven had announced his affair it had hurt more deeply than she could have anticipated but she’d at least had a tangible presence that could be held up as a figure of blame, a scapegoat to stop her from having to examine her own actions. It was only in her darkest moments that she let herself think about her own mistakes and failures, and how they affected those she was close to. It was much easier to stand by her decisions regardless than it was to agonise over the unchangeable past.
Heavily she dragged herself along the corridor, toward the snack bar, for a coffee, in the hope of keeping herself awake long enough to catch Charlie when he finally left the sanctuary of the bustling resusc room. She needed to see him, speak to him, find some way of convincing him that what she did wasn’t personal it was business and like he’d repeatedly said, the two could be kept separate. Couldn’t they?
She didn’t want to lose him; she‘d lost too many people already: her husband, her daughter…
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Louise Cartwright questioned as her boyfriend Mark Daniels pulled her toward the entrance to Holby City Hospital. She tried to stand her ground and resist movement, but he merely tightened his grip on her wrist, and gave her a swift yank. She stumbled forward a few paces before wrestling free of him.
He stopped and turned back to face her, sighing. His handsome features twisted into a condescending smile.
“You suggested it”.
She faltered. “I know, but…”
“Well then,” he cut in, mid-protestation, “Come on!”
He didn’t even wait for her this time, instead he turned on the heel of his expensive trainers and charged through the automatic doors; slowing to a casual gait once inside, and even having the audacity to wink at a couple of young female nurses. Only when he reached the doors that led to the main reception area did he pause and glance over his shoulder to see if Louise was following.
As she trotted along behind him she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up, and slipped a pair of designer sunglasses down onto the bridge of her nose. Not exactly a master disguise, but enough to make a CCTV identification impossible. As she caught up with Mark she didn’t even notice the suspicious looks she was receiving from the passers by. He did though.
He reached out, snatching the glasses and pushing the hood back in one fluid, if not gentle movement. She winced as his watchstrap caught on a few of her long caramel coloured hairs, pulling them untidily from her ponytail.
“What was that for!?”
“Sunglasses? A, we’re indoors, and B, it’s gone bloody midnight.” He lowered his voice, and slipped an arm around her petite frame. “Do you want to draw attention to us?”
“Of course not” she replied as Mark guided her through the reception area and towards the stairs that led to the first floor. “But this place has security. I don’t want Mum finding out I was here…”
“Your Mum wouldn’t notice if you were on fire babe. Isn’t that the point?”
“I suppose…” She brought her hand up to her mouth, and chewed thoughtfully on the skin around her index finger’s nail. That was how it had all started, a desire, no, a need to get at her mother. She wanted to show the selfish cow that she wouldn’t be ignored, that sending a few quid every now and again and calling it motherhood wasn‘t enough.
In the past Louise had tried all sorts of dramatics to gain her mother’s attention. Ignoring her for months at a time didn’t work; her mother didn’t seem to notice. The opposite, turning up unannounced also hadn’t worked. All that had happened was that she had been forced to endure an evening with the latest of the boyfriends, although a mild consolation had been that said boyfriend called things off the next day. She’d even tried dying her hair a vibrant pink. Her father had gone bananas over that one; her mother had called off her planned visit due to the grand old excuse of ‘trouble at work’ and hadn’t seen her again until it had all washed out.
Being the perfect daughter had long since stopped working, being a rebellious daughter made no difference either, but if her mother didn’t care about her daughter, she certainly cared about her work…
Back at Mark’s bed-sit, and quite drunk, it had seemed a brilliant plan. Perhaps not of Machiavellian genius but destructive enough to bring her mother into disrepute and inevitably steal away the only thing that she ever cared about, her career. The night air had gone some way to sobering Louise up though, and it suddenly didn’t seem so clever.
“Why’ve you stopped?” They’d reached the top of the stairs, Mark still holding onto Louise with such a firm grasp that she’d virtually been propelled up them without conscious thought. However, now, he seemed to be waiting for her to make the next move.
“I don’t know where the bloody office is, do I? She’s not my Mum.”
“Well I don’t either!” Louise squealed, a worried frown creasing her delicate features. People were starting to stare again, and Mark pulled her into the corner of the corridor. “Didn’t you hear what I said before? She acts like I don’t even exist. You really think she’s invited me in to see her work place? Hell, she’s been in Holby for nearly a year and I’ve only seen in her flat once! … Well, I guess twice if you count tonight”.
“So what now then, eh? Chief Exec’s office isn’t gonna be signposted is it?”
“We could ask someone…?”
“How much did you say your private education cost again? Not exactly money well spent Lollipop. No one’s gonna believe we have an appointment with her at this time of night. All this way for nothing!”
“My name’s Louise, Mark. Oh come on, let’s go home”.
He took less than a second to dismiss the idea. “It can’t be that hard to find - you coming?” He stepped forward but his eyes were still fixed on Louise rather than where he was heading, and he collided with a navy clad nurse.
The nurse rubbed her forehead under a strawberry blonde fringe, and grimaced. “I’m sorry, it’s been a long night, are you ok?”
Mark’s first instinct was to pick a fight, but there was something so genuinely apologetic about the woman that he caught himself before uttering a syllable and in that extra moment of silence a plan came to mind.
“I’m fine love, it was my fault, wasn’t looking where I was goin’… you see we’re a bit lost. You couldn’t help could you?” He flashed his best charming smile, the one that had hooked Louise in the first place and didn’t seen to be doing such a bad job with the harassed nurse.
She smiled and nodded, “I’ll do my best, but I’ve only worked her fifteen years - I still get lost sometimes!”
“We’re looking for the Chief Executive’s office, Mrs C…”
“Goddard” Louise interrupted, gaining a confused glance from Mark, but the nurse didn’t even notice. “Jan Goddard”.
“It’s not exactly office hours… I think she’s still around somewhere in A&E though.” She seemed to sigh to herself, “I could pass on a message?”
“We don’t actually want so see her” It was Louise’s turn to look confused, and as if sensing this Mark gave her arm a little squeeze. Part reassurance, but unmistakably part warning not to speak. He didn’t take his eyes off the nurse, so automatically she didn’t take hers off him and Louise‘s wince of pain went unnoticed. “It’s my girl’s first day as her secretary tomorro’ and we thought we’d do a bit of a reccy of the place. Wouldn’t want her to be late ’cause she got lost now, would we…” He glanced swiftly at her name badge, “Lisa? That’s a very pretty name”.
Louise groaned inwardly as she watched the nurse‘s reaction. A small look of surprise, a coy smile, a slight adjustment of the uniform. How was it that women so frequently got sucked in by a pathetic bit of flattery?
“Ms Goddard’s office is on the third floor. If you take that lift, then turn right as you exit it, through the double doors that’ll take you through to the offices. Hers is the one at the end, but I think they’re all locked at this time of night”.
“Well, we’ll go and have a look. Thank you very much Lisa, you’ve been a star”. He winked.
She blushed ever so faintly, and turned to Louise. “Er, have a good day tomorrow then. I hope you like working here. Bye”.
Louise waited until the nurse was out of earshot before speaking. “That’s a very pretty name, you’ve been a star, I’m going to be sick!”
“Oh, come on babe, it did the trick. Besides you know you’re the only one for me. She’s just an old bag compared to you!”. He grinned. She felt herself begin to fall for it, and physically shook the feeling out of her head.
“Can we just get on with it then?” She jammed her thumb into the lift button, and it turned an appropriately angry shade of red. “You heard what she said, Mum’s still in the building”.
“Doesn’t she ever sleep?”
“Probably not. She’d probably just say that ‘sleeping is an inefficient use of resources‘.”
“Sounds like a right nutter, no wonder you want to hurt her!”
Louise flinched involuntarily. The gnawing doubt tinged with pre-emptive guilt. “I don’t want to hurt her. I just want to teach her a lesson”.
“Whatever”. The doors pinging open, they stepped into the empty carriage. Mark pressed the button and the lift lurched upward.
Out of the corner of her eye Louise could see her reflection in the mirror that lined the side of the small tin box. She had her mother’s features; small, pretty. Her father said there was something secretive about their faces, as though there was always some ticking over of the mind going on, assessing and re-assessing the situation but their conclusions never divulged. Louise had always hated that about her mother. She wanted to look into a face full of maternal kindness, not sharp calculating eyes.
She’d always denied that she had inherited that feature but as her focus became more absorbed in her own image she started to wonder. She had doubts about this little venture, more doubts about why Mark was so keen to see it succeed; he didn’t even know her Mum… but to look at her expression at that moment it was blank. No traces of doubt, of fear, of sadness. If she felt these things, maybe her mother did too...
“I really don’t think we should be here Mark… we could get in big trouble, and not just with Mum, with the police too. It’s not worth it. I’ll find some other way of dealing with Mum.”
Mark shifted his weight from one foot to the other and pushed his hand through his short dark hair but said nothing.
“Mark are you listening to me!?”
“I hear you Lollipop…” The doors opened once more and he stepped out into the corridor. “But we’re here now”.
She didn’t move. It had all taken too long to get that far, her brain was whirring rationally again. If they’d been able to get from Mark’s bed sit to her Mum’s place and on to the hospital in a shorter amount of time she might have been able to go through with it, or perhaps she would have reached that same spot, only a few hours earlier and still chickened out.
The doors began to close, and Mark speedily grabbed at each of the metal sheets and held them apart. Louise could see his muscles ripple as he forced the gap wider.
“Come on”. Not a gentle coax, not an angry order; either of those she could have resisted. His voice was even, hard edged. His eyes glinted with a menace that she’d never known was there before. He scared her, but with nowhere to run she had no choice but to walk forward.
He released his grip on the doors; instead grabbing her shoulder and forcing her toward him. The doors seemed to sigh with relief as they closed, and the lift went back along its way. Louise had no such luxury.
Pinching tighter through the fabric of Louise’s jacket, apparently oblivious to her squirms of pain, Mark pushed onward recalling the directions he’d been given.
The office area was sparsely illuminated, only every other strip light was on, and they seemed to be working at half power, although how much of that was an optical illusion due to the serenity and emptiness of the night time offices compared to the activity evident in A&E was up for debate.
He pushed Louise ahead of him as they walked down the narrow blue corridor, scanning the name plaques. “What’s it she calls herself? Goddard?”
“Yeah. Maiden name. She went back to it years ago. Doesn’t want to be associated wi…”
“Shush! This is it.”
Still holding Louise roughly with one hand, he used the other to try the handle. As he’d expected it was locked and he toyed with the idea of giving it a good swift kick, before deciding that if Louise’s plan, well, his modification of Louise’s plan, was going to work he’d have to be more careful than that. He pulled a credit card from the back pocket of his jeans and forced it between the doorframe and door. A few seconds later he had pushed Louise forward again and inside the room.
They stood in the middle of the secretary’s reception area. A low leather sofa ran down the left hand wall, the secretary’s work station straight ahead; Yucca plant, coat stand and water cooler, and a window that raised the ambient light level enough to see by, along the right wall. Just behind and to the left of the desk was another door that led to the office proper. He moved toward it and opened it just as easily.
“You’d think they’d have better security!” he scoffed, releasing Louise but shepherding her towards her mother’s desk. She went as directed, switching on the computer terminal and standing in front of it between desk and chair.
The screen lit up, bathing her with a harsh blue light that she blinked against. She pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her trouser pocket and smoothed it out on the desk.
“Sit down. Get on with it”. He was standing opposite her, behind the screen, agitated but keeping his voice to that dead calm level.
“I don’t want to” But she sat nonetheless, her conscience wrestling with the knowledge that her actions could destroy her mother’s career, and the feeling of amazing power, power to take from her Mum what had taken her Mum from her. She looked up again and saw Mark leaning over the screen; his features up lit in an almost demonic fashion. She knew in an instant that she was wrong. It wasn’t her with the power at all.
“Well…? The longer you take, the more chance of someone catching you”.
“Why do you care about this so much anyway?”
“Care? Wha..? Oh.” He grinned, understanding her misconception, “Lollipop, I don’t care about your mother issues.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. “I have my own plan.” He dropped the paper over the front of the screen and it floated gently to land on the keyboard. She recognised the formation of numbers easily. Bank account details.
“Hey, now wait….” She rose from the chair, but no sooner was she standing than he nipped around behind her and pushed her back down. Her knees buckled under her and she collapsed with a padded thud back into the chair. He jerked the chair forward trapping her against the edge of the desk and almost winding her in the process.
“It’s stealing!” Louise protested, although even to her own ears it sounded feeble.
“It’s what you were going to do anyway”.
“I was going to transfer the money into Mum’s account, then send an anonymous letter to the Trust implicating her. The money would have been recovered. You want to steal from a bloody hospital! I won’t do it!”
She set her jaw defiantly and fixed her eyes on the bright welcoming design dancing slowly across the monitor’s screen.
He took hold of her ponytail, twisting the length of hair around his hand so that he had firm grasp of her head. She yelled out in pain, but her cries only reverberated around the empty office for an instant before dieing. He tugged down hard on her hair, forcing her head back so that he could see into her eyes. She tried at first not to meet his gaze but it only seemed to encourage more pulling and pain. She gave in and looked at him.
“You will do it, and you’ll do it now.”
Her eyes were starting to blur with tears, her chin trembled and her head was at such an angle she found it increasingly hard to catch her breath.
“Please…” she murmured, “don’t hurt me, Mark, please…”
He relaxed a fraction, allowed her head to return to a more comfortable angle, and bent lower so he could talk into her ear. She could feel his hot breath brush past her earlobe. Not so long ago such a feeling would be the prelude to lovemaking, now it nauseated her.
“Think of this… you have in your possession your Mum’s security codes and password, robbed from her flat only an hour ago. You have in front of you access to the hospital computer system, and you have, in your beautiful little head the know how to use these things to borrow a few thousand pounds. Pay off a few niggling debts. Think how much sweeter life would be then… No more grubby bed sit, no more sponging off the Mum you hate so much…”
Mark let the words sink in hoping to persuade Louise, but all she heard of them were the last six words: the Mum you hate so much. But I don’t hate her, she thought, if I hated her I wouldn’t be trying so hard to get her attention, to destroy her job.
“They could trace it easily enough.” she whimpered. “You’d never get away with it. I’m not that good with computers to hide the details. That wasn’t the plan. I wanted her caught”.
“The details aren’t mine. It’s a phoney account, one of a few Dave uses in some credit card scam of his. I phoned him when you were in your Mum’s getting the details. We transfer the money into that, then break it down into smaller sums, draw some out, invest some… there are ways… By the time they trace it the account will be closed and we’ll be much better off”.
“But if it’s done with Mum’s password then they’ll blame her!”
“Which is what you wanted!”
“Not like this!“
“DO IT!” He was losing his calm and, beginning to understand what he was capable of when he was calm, she shivered at the thought of what he might do when he wasn’t.
She reached across for the paper, wiping her eyes with her sleeve to dry them and still having to blink against fresh tears in order to see what she was doing. Her hands worked on autopilot, opening files and spreadsheets, tapping in passwords as she was prompted. The computer system was old and badly safeguarded, easy for someone as computer literate as Louise to navigate and she cursed her mother for paying for all the hardware and software that she’d learnt her skills on.
And she cursed her for being such a creature of habit. Always keeping notes of passwords, always filing bank statements in the same place. Years of almost total estrangement and yet Louise knew this efficient, organised side of her mother so well. All it took was ten minutes rummaging through the filing cabinet back at her mother’s study.
She was absorbed now, in the flickering screen in front, and in the thoughts moving faster still in her head. She could barely feel Mark’s grip on her, hardly hear his slow heavy breathing as he too watched the screen, anticipation growing. Neither of them noticed the door swish smoothly open, but when the light switched on, they looked up, frozen.
“What the hell…? Louise?”
In an awkward movement, Mark flung himself around the side of the desk and bolted for the door. As he did so he barged past Jan, spinning her into the doorframe and smacking her forehead against the wood. She crumpled to the ground as he vanished from view and sped down the corridor.
Louise sat at the desk in shock. Her fingers were still on the keyboard, and shaking enough to rattle the keys. She felt temporarily paralysed, barely able to stutter “M-M-Mum?”
Jan made no movement.
“M-Mum?” Louise eased herself slowly up from the chair to get a better look at the figure on the floor, swiping tears from her eyes with increasingly sodden sleeves. “Mum?” Her voice sounded a little surer now, more forceful, more determined to elicit a response but it didn’t sound quite like her own. It was a reflex reaction while the rest of her mind struggled to find a coherent thought.
By the door Jan groaned, and rolled a little onto her side.
A wave of relief washed over Louise, her mother wasn’t dead; followed by a tsunami of panic, her mother would know what she was doing… Her mind cleared enough for her to reach down and pull the power cable from the computer. It’s gentle hum ceased and suddenly the room hung heavy with silence. She edged around the desk and launched herself at her mother, not trusting her legs to carry her they trembled so much with fright. She fell on her knees at Jan’s side.
“Mum? Mum, can you hear me?”
“Um… yes… yeah…”
Louise helped Jan into a sitting position, her back against the wall next to the open door. A trickle of blood flowed in an almost perfect line from her temple to her jaw. And Louise laughed a manic nervous laugh at the sight. Even her mother’s blood was neat.
“You need a doctor… I’ll get you a doctor… I’ll go… alright? … yeah? Mum?”
“W-Wait.” Jan gently felt her wound, then brought her hand down to stare at the glossy red coating of her fingertips, mesmerised. “Get Charlie”.
“Who? What? Mum, who’s Charlie?”
“Down in A&E, Charlie Fairhead. They all know him. Go, please”.
Louise clambered to her feet unsteadily, muttering the name under her breath in an effort to force herself to remember it, and after a brief pause to collect her wits she ran out of the room, down the corridor, crashing through doors, and bouncing off the walls in her haste.
“Any news?” Duffy asked, as she came up behind Charlie at reception.
He turned to face her wearily, no need to ask if she was referring to Nikki’s condition, it was all anyone was thinking of. He shook his head. “Still in theatre last I heard”.
“All this waiting…” she sighed.
“But it means she’s still fighting…” he countered, and she smiled wanly.
“Talking of fighting, you and Jan, what was all that about earlier? When I came to tell you about Nikki and you told me to go away. You looked like you were in the middle of stuff and you’ve been weird about her ever since.”
He leant against the desk, and rubbed the back of his head, realising that whatever Duffy would think of his breaking up with Jan would come a far distant second place to finding out what Jan did to Max.
“We broke up”.
Her eyes filled with sympathy. “Oh Charlie, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I did it. I called it off. She was responsible for Max’s departure Duf - I feel so stupid for not seeing it!”
Torn between comforting her friend and the unreleased anger about what Jan did, Duffy hovered indecisive for a second before folding her arms across her chest and leaning back on the desk herself. “She what? The scheming little… And she’s just going to get away with it?”
“There’s not really anything I can do. The Board are all behind her, and Max has already been replaced. You know, he said as much before he left and I didn’t even believe him. I wouldn’t entertain the thought that she could be lying to me.” He grunted a breathy laugh of disbelief; “You’d think I’d know better at my age than to go on blind trust!”
“You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know.”
“I should’ve though. We’ve been seeing each other for the best part of a year; I should’ve known what she was up to. Makes me wonder just what else I don’t know about her”.
“You’re better off out of it Charlie”.
“I suppose, but…”
The arrival of a startled but oddly familiar looking girl in her late teens stopped him mid sentence. She headed for Duffy, ignoring Charlie’s presence completely.
“Um, hi again, look, I need some help” the girl said softly, conspiratorially even.
Charlie saw the flicker of recognition in Duffy’s eyes. “You’re Ms Goddard’s new secretary, yeah? What’s wrong?”
Thoughts clicked together in Charlie’s head. That was wrong. Jan didn’t have, and wasn’t looking for, a new secretary. He’d spoken to her current one only that morning.
“She’s hurt, in her office, she said to find someone called Charlie, but I don’t know who he is…” The girl looked worried, or more than that, she looked scared. Duffy smiled reassuringly, and directed the girl’s attention to Charlie. She glanced up at him and he nodded the affirmative.
“Did you say that Jan’s hurt? What happened?” He tried to keep his calm professional voice intact, but visions of Jan mingled with the memory of Nikki’s prone body from just a few hours earlier and he already feared the worst.
“She was… I don’t know… She banged her head, it’s bleeding”.
“Was she unconscious?”
“Um, yeah, I think, for a bit. She came around though. She wants you”.
He looked past the girl at Duffy, silently appealing for her take on the situation. Duffy shrugged. “You better go then. I’ll get things set up down here just in case”.
“Right. Thanks Duffy”. He turned back to the girl, “I’ll just grab some supplies… Her office did you say?”
Jan twisted herself around until she was on her hands and knees and proceeded to pull herself up to standing using the doorframe as support. Her limbs trembled and her head throbbed and she stood braced against the wall for a few seconds taking deep breaths and trying to make sense of the situation. Was that really Louise?
A small drip of blood dropped from her chin and landed silently on the carpet, a perfect burgundy circle on the pale grey fabric. She pulled a tissue from her jacket pocket and pressed it to her head. The action seemed to dull the throbbing but make her more aware of a stinging sensation. And who was that man?
With her left hand still holding the increasingly damp tissue to her head she paced across the room and sank gratefully into her desk chair, her thoughts un-clouding enough to realise that was where both Louise and the strange man had been when she’d entered the room. The computer was now dead, and whatever file they’d had opened long closed. She tried the drawers but they were all still locked, the desk was immaculate with the exception of the keyboard being at the wrong angle. But what were they doing here?
She cast her eye across the room, looking for some clue as to what they had been up to. It was so unlike Louise to come to visit unexpectedly, she could only recall one such time, and that had been a disaster. They’d never been close; something that Jan had always regretted but had come to terms with over the years, it was probably better that way anyway. Steven was a good father to Louise; she’d never been neglected, although she did seem to delight in being difficult. Jan had never been able to reason with her…. And how had they got into the office?
Something caught her eye, two pieces of paper lying abandoned on the floor. She bent to pick them up, recognising in moments the security codes for her job on the one sheet and some unfamiliar bank account details on the other. Even with her blinding headache, two and two came together speedily. They were trying to rob the hospital. Her own daughter, and presumably her boyfriend!
Jan swivelled back to the desk and pushed the keyboard back to its rightful position, rested her elbows on the desktop, and propped her forehead in her hands. She expelled a long breath. Perfect end to a perfect day.
She saw the tear splash onto the polished wood before she even realised that she was crying.
“By the way, who are you, you look…?” Charlie peered at her as she led him back the way she had come at a gentler, but still brisk, pace that he was having trouble keeping up with.
She glanced over her shoulder at him momentarily. “I’m Louise. I’m her daughter. You must be her new bloke”
“Old bloke” He corrected, then realised he didn’t like the sound of that. “What I mean is ex bloke, no, ex-boyfriend - we split up.“ He paused to catch his breath as they reached the final flight of stairs. “I didn’t know she had a daughter”.
Ahead of him Louise stopped, though didn’t look round. “Doesn’t surprise me”.
The note of bitterness in the girl’s voice was unmistakable and Charlie’s heart automatically went out to her. He couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be held in so little regard by a parent. His own parents had always been proud of him; even it had taken some time to convince them that nursing was a decent career for a man. And he also knew how proud he was of Louis. He could talk for hours about the boy, and uninterrupted would.
As he trudged the final few steps to the third floor he scanned his memory for comments Jan might have made regarding her daughter, and came up lacking. She’s alluded to having been married before but never said anything concrete. She’d never even looked to be comfortable with children.
Together they rounded the corner and made their way along the final corridor in silence, the only communication between the two the occasional sideways glance to see if the other was keeping up. Charlie let Louise enter the outer office first and as he followed her in and through to the main office he mentally steeled himself for what was sure to be an uncomfortable situation. Jan was sitting at her desk, her head bowed into her hands.
“Mum, I brought him” Louise announced, hovering awkwardly at the side of the desk. As far as Charlie could tell she looked unsure whether to comfort her mother, or stand out of the way altogether; perhaps even run away.
Jan’s head bobbed slightly in recognition of their arrival but she didn’t look up. Charlie cleared his throat and took a few steps closer, coming around the other side of the desk to where Louise stood. “Jan?”
Jan turned her head a fraction to look at Charlie and he saw instantly tears in her eyes and the dampness of her cheeks. He crouched down beside her, one hand supporting himself on the desk, the other wavering a few centimetres from her back indecisive about giving her a reassuring hug or maintaining his emotional distance. His mind spun back to their argument earlier, how much he’d hated her for what she’d done, and hated her more for standing so proudly and trying to defend it. She didn’t look so proud now though.
Instinctively he closed his arm in on her, soothingly rubbing her back. He expected her to turn into his embrace but she didn’t. She sniffed, swallowed and wiped her tears away with her thumb before sitting up straight - a picture of regained composure.
“Thank you,” she said, a multipurpose comment evenly directed at both Charlie and Louise and therefore having no real significance to either. “I think it’s stopped bleeding”.
Charlie directed his attention to the cut for the first time. He pulled on some gloves and gently moved Jan’s hand away from the tissue, peeling it back. As Jan said, the blood had congealed to a goopy mess around the wound, and he fingered the edges tentatively, watching for Jan’s reaction.
“Bad?” she asked.
“You’ll live. It’s not too deep; a couple of Steri-strips should do it. Might leave a tiny scar though”.
He produced a dressing from his supplies bag, and pressed it onto the wound, directing her to hold it as he deftly taped it in place. “We should get you downstairs, get this sorted… How did it happen, Jan?”
“I…” She turned away from Charlie to look up to Louise. He followed her gaze, but Louise wasn’t there. “Louise?”
Charlie checked the other office and glanced down the corridor. He returned the room looking puzzled. “Jan what is going on?”
“I caught her in here with a man, maybe a couple of years older, in his early twenties perhaps. They’d broken into the computer system…” She pushed the paper evidence across to the desk to him, “I think they were trying to transfer funds from the hospital’s accounts into their own”.
“You’re kidding!” Charlie shook his head in disbelief. One look at Jan proved she wasn’t joking about it.
“When I interrupted he ran off, knocked me into the wall… I should reboot the computer, see what they’ve done…”
“No, you should come back downstairs and get that cut sorted. Were you unconscious at all…?“
“Not for long”
“Dizziness, nausea? You should really see a doctor”.
“I’m fine Charlie”. She picked up the telephone, her hand poised to dial the appropriate number. “Really”.
“What are you doing now?!”
“Calling security. I should probably call tech support as well, get the passwords changed…”
“Jan!” Charlie called exasperatedly, “It can wait. She’s your daughter for God’s sake; she can’t be that hard to track down! I want you downstairs getting that cut dealt with. Now”.
She smiled a little despite the situation. “You’re worried about me?”
He opened his mouth to agree, but before he’d summoned the words he recalled that their relationship had already ended on bad terms. He changed tact. “I’m worried about all my patients. Now will you please come back downstairs with me?”
Jan replaced the handset to its cradle and rose from her chair. “Alright”
He waited by the door for her, his mind full of confusion. His feelings, that had seemed so clear cut as he’d stood before her shouting ’There is no us!” were now muddied with the worry he’d felt on hearing that she was injured, on seeing her crying and much as he tried to write it off as professional compassion just like he’d felt for Nikki, he knew it ran deeper than that.
She reached him, and touched his arm gently to wake him from his thoughts. “Let’s go then”, but before another step was taken they heard her office phone ring.
Louise struggled against his grip but he held her too tight. His right hand was clamped across her mouth, partway across her nose too, making breathing difficult and reducing the amount of oxygen in her body only served to make her weaker. Even though both her arms and her legs were unbound she could do no more than flail blindly and ineffectually.
“Hush up Lollipop. Don’t wanna give the game away do you?”
Just down the corridor she could hear the sound of the telephone ringing. She could also hear Mark’s foot taping impatiently on the carpet.
“Pick up you daft cow!” He held the mobile away from his ear and peered at the tiny screen ’Calling… Mum’. She made a swipe for it but he was too quick in pulling it away. He pressed it up to his ear again. “Pick it up!”
Exhausted, Louise lapsed into silence only the sound of her heavy breathing and the distant ringing audible. Then the ringing stopped.
Mark adjusted his hold to be tighter still than before and spoke in that cold empty tone that sent a chill down Louise‘s spine. “Jan Goddard, I have your daughter”.
She wished she could hear what her mother said in response but no amount of straining could make out more than a muffled tinny hum.
“What I want is what I came here to get. Fifty thousand pounds in my account.”
“You have everything you need right there in that office. There’s a piece of paper with my details on it. Transfer the money into my account. When I’ve received notice the transfer has gone through I’ll let Louise go”.
Just do it Mum, Louise thought, but even though the words being said were indecipherable to her, Louise knew that Jan was arguing.
Suddenly she felt the warm plastic of the phone thrust against her ear and her mother’s voice calling her name. Mark let go of her mouth, keeping his arm around her neck to hold her in place.
“Say something to her”.
“Mum! Help I’m…” but his hand clamped back against her before she could continue the sentence. Mark had the phone back to his own ear again and her chance was lost.
“You’ve got ten minutes. And no bloody police”. The keypad bleeped as he hung up. “I guess now we’ll find out for sure one way or another just what your mother really feels for you. D’you reckon that you’re worth fifty thou‘?”
“What? What’s happening? Jan?”
She stood facing Charlie but not really seeing him at all, still clutching the handset, what little colour she’d had left in her cheeks drained away totally now. Events were panning out far more unexpectedly than she could have possibly imagined, although all her years in various businesses had taught her that such things do happen. She just never thought they would happen to her.
“He’s got Louise. He’s holding her to ransom. Fifty thousand pounds in ten minutes…” There was little emotion in her voice; the fear, confusion and worry inside her were being kept in check by her subconscious, a discipline that came automatically to her in times of extreme stress. No point getting hysterical, that never helped anyone.
Her eyes snapped into focus on him. “I… I don’t know. She sounded terrified. Charlie, what if he hurts her?”
“Didn’t you say he was her boyfriend? He wouldn’t actually hurt her, would he?”
“How the hell would I know!” she snapped, her façade dropping for a split second. She counted to ten in her head, took a deep breath, “I don’t know him, I don’t know what he would do”.
She lifted her hand to the patch on her head and paced across the room a couple of times. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Charlie standing helplessly, his hands thrust into his pockets, his face sporting an expression a mixture of bafflement and concern.
“What exactly did he say?”
“He’s got her, he wants the money, I’ve got ten minutes and not to call the police. That’s it. He didn’t even say where they were… although she couldn’t have got far while we were talking… they’re probably still in the hospital or at least the grounds…”
“Jan? Have you got that much money at your disposal?”
She’d headed back to the desk, and sat on the edge of it, the telephone once again in front of her. She looked up at Charlie. “I’m the chief executive, I have access to the hospital funds, much more than fifty thousand, of course usually I’d have to get it all approved by the Trust’s financial division but I do have the clearance…”
“Then give over the money, get Louise back. Make sure she’s safe”.
A part of her knew there was logic in what he was saying. Hearing the terror in Louise’s voice had made her feel physically sick, but yet the thought of giving in to a demand like that, of rolling over and just handing over the money was abhorrent to her. There wasn’t even any reason to trust the man, what if he took the money and decided he didn’t need his hostage, then what… She shuddered.
“I’m calling the police. I’ll get the security team to do a sweep of the building and the grounds, they can’t have got far”.
“He said no police, you can’t put her in danger like that!”
“She’ll be in more danger if we just sit here and do nothing. The police are trained for this sort of thing”.
“They won’t get here in ten minutes - Jan, if you don’t know what he’s capable of, for God’s sake don’t antagonise him. It’s only money. Pay him”.
She could feel her hands trembling and clamped them under her arms, hugging herself tight. She saw Charlie bristle at the movement, and it occurred to her that he saw the folding of her arms as some sort of act of defiance. But she had no time to argue about the significance of gesticulations with him.
“Just what makes you the expert on hostage situations, anyway Charlie?”
He laughed at her. It only lasted a moment but it was definitely a laugh. She glared at him. “Sorry, but, well, you’d be amazed at the situations I’ve ended up in. That scar on my chest? That was from a situation just downstairs when I got myself shot ’cause some madman decided to take a friend hostage, and my ex-wife, I proposed to her while we were tied up in a warehouse down by the docks. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt Jan, time and time again, it’s not to underestimate the ruthlessness of mankind. Anyone who can take a kid like Louise hostage and demand money from her mother is someone you don’t want to cross”.
Jan listened with barely contained shock. Under different circumstances she would have assumed he was making it up, but this was not the time for storytelling. How could she have known him so long and yet not know him at all? Of course she’d had her own secrets too. She began to pace again, up and down the office. It seemed so small to her all of a sudden, and not enough fresh air - not enough space and time to think. She’d always been adept at thinking on her feet, but this was just ridiculous!
Control of the situation was slipping - had slipped, she corrected herself - out of her hands. And she didn’t like it one bit. She looked at her watch, seven minutes left. Not enough time, just not enough.
She paced through to the adjoining office, and poured a drink of water from the cooler in the corner. The cold liquid did nothing to help the situation, but it occupied her for a few seconds and the act of doing something, even something so pointless helped in an odd sort of way.
Her cut stung, and she could see the reflection of the big white pad Charlie had secured against it in the water bottle. It read like a sign to her; a sign saying ’Look how my control has slipped!”
She felt Charlie put his arm around her, and let herself be guided to the sofa on the other side of the room. They sat together, and with her brain stuck for anything productive to do she gave in to her emotions and lay her head against his shoulder. When she spoke, it was in a tiny voice.
“I don’t know what to do, Charlie”.
“Pay the money”.
Fighting to regain her composure she pulled away from him. “I can’t. What sort of message would that be putting out? That anyone can turn up, kidnap a board member’s child and expect to make off with next year’s budget? I can’t open the hospital up to that Charlie. I’d be remiss in my duties as the Chief Executive of the hospital”.
“Stuff the hospital. If it were my Louis…”
“Yes well it’s not. She’s my daughter and it’s my decision. I’m calling the police”. She stood before he had a chance to say more and returned to her office, drumming out the nine, nine, nine with the forefinger of her right hand, whilst the fingers of her left hand were crossed.
Four doors down in another office, Louise also had her fingers crossed. Mark had found a roll of parcel tape and bound her to the office swivel chair around the chest and ankles. He’d also placed a strip across her mouth so she couldn’t speak. At first she’d tried screaming, even through the tape she could make some noise, but Mark had delivered a sharp blow to her head for her efforts and the stinging of her newly acquired black eye reminded her not to do it again.
He sat on the desk itself, scoring lines into the wood with a letter opener that glinted in the moonlight that filtered into the unlit office. Next to him sat two mobile phones. Louise’s purple plastic covered one that he’d used to call Jan, and his own silver version that waited for the call from Dave to tell him the money had arrived. Both were far too far from Louise to be of any help though, and she wondered if Mark left them there to taunt her deliberately.
“Your Mummy is being slow Lollipop. Now she wouldn’t be the sort of woman to do something stupid would she?” Louise shook her head as Mark pointed the edge of the letter opener at her.
He seemed satisfied and relaxed, going back to his scoring. Louise didn’t feel anywhere near that sure though. She wanted to believe that her mother would do anything necessary to save her, but there was this niggling doubt, something that said that any woman who would happily abandon her five-year-old daughter in favour of work just couldn’t be relied upon.
She saw Mark look down at his watch again. “Less than five minutes now babe. I hope she doesn’t think that I’m not serious… You know I’m serious don’t you?”
“There’s a good girl. You know, I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I like you Lollipop, you’ve got looks, brains and most importantly rich parents; it’s not often you can find a girl like that. The problem is your monthly subs aren’t really enough to keep me in the manner to which I have become accustomed, and I owe a lot of people a lot of money. The sort of people who’ll take your limbs if they can’t take your cash. So you see it’s not personal, it’s just… business”.
He leaned in closer to her, close enough that she could smell his nervous sweat.
“If you’re really good, maybe I’ll give you a cut…”
Jan returned to the sofa and sat back down next to Charlie. He hadn’t moved in all the time she’d been on the phone. “They didn’t believe me at first, but they still have officers in the area investigating the stabbing. I told them to be discrete”.
“Have you ever met a discrete policeman?”
“They know what they’re doing. So now all I can do is wait”. She drummed her fingers against her knee for a few seconds before realising how irritating it was and picking imaginary bits of fluff off her skirt instead.
Charlie, oblivious to her fidgeting, was paying more attention to her face‘s serene expression. “How can you be so calm?”
A look of hurt passed across her face, but no sooner was it there than it was gone. “Screaming and shouting won’t get her back quicker and I’m having quite enough trouble working out what to do for the best without giving in to panic”.
“I don’t understand you Jan.” He replied, rising from the sofa and pouring himself a cup of water. He rested with his back against the window and downed the water in one. “I mean, there are times to go by the book and there are times to throw the book out the window, and this…” He shook his head, stumped for more to say.
“You’re quite the authority on that though aren’t you? Deciding when it’s okay to break the rules and when it isn’t?”
Charlie’s mouth fell open in shock and a little disgust. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to people attacking him for his principles, and if he were really honest there had been times when he had perhaps been a little hypocritical, but of all the times to pick a fight…
“You know what I mean Charlie. Max. What he did was wrong Charlie, but you stood by him, you’re still standing by him. Whatever I may have done, he screwed up all by himself, yet you’re still willing to blame me, to break up with me. Why is what I did so much worse? I was protecting the hospital’s best interests, what he did was purely selfish”
“He was stupid, yes, I agree, but he was trying to help his girlfriend’s son” Charlie countered, amazed that she could switch off from her worries about Louise so totally and resurrect their earlier argument.
“So because his heart was in the right place it’s okay to flout the rules?”
“At least he has a heart!”
She rose too, heading for the window, and staring blankly out of it rather than at Charlie. He thought he detected the beginning of tears in her eyes but because she wouldn’t look at him he couldn’t be sure.
“That was uncalled for, especially now”. Her voice was level, but strained and he knew that he’d truly hurt her. He felt he should apologise but the words wouldn’t come to him. She could be cold and she could be distant, that wasn’t his fault. “I have a heart Charlie, I‘ve shown you more of it than most”.
“Have you? I don’t know anything about you. I only found out about Louise ten minutes ago. Most people are proud of their kids, you’ve never even mentioned her to me!”
Still staring into the night sky she answered him. “It’s complicated”.
“How complicated could it possibly be?”
“We don’t speak, haven’t for years. I thought you might understand…”
“Why would I understand?”
“Louis. His mother left you, took him away from you, met someone else and you don’t see him for most of the year; I’m not in such a dissimilar situation Charlie”.
He gritted his teeth against the angry outburst he could feel welling up inside of him. How dare she compare her estrangement from her daughter to his forced distance from his son.
“Baz took Louis to Canada. I try to see him, every opportunity I get I’m out there. I phone him, write, send pictures, I talk about him all the time” he growled.
Jan waited until he’d finished then turned to face him, her glistening eyes the only clue to her inner feelings. She held her expression fixed, her chin up, her back straight. Charlie recognised this, her battle stance and braced himself for the logical, well reasoned and damned difficult-to-argue-against comeback.
“Imagine that Baz stopped you though. Imagine you went for custody and she stood up in court and told the world that you weren’t fit to look after your own child. Imagine that her boyfriend moved in and took over… “
As she spoke, he could see the wall of composure start to crumble. She fought it, fought hard to maintain her dignity, but her voice cracked with emotion. For the first time in their relationship he knew she was speaking from the heart.
“Now what about if you never were the maternal type to start with? If the only way you could cope with life with a demanding child in the house was to plunge into your work. If you started to dread going home because you knew that you couldn’t cope with her, so you’re never there and you don’t bond with her, and your husband starts having an affair… “ She took a breath, brushed her hand through her hair. “I can control budgets, and I can control personnel to an extent but children… I don’t understand them; maybe I’m missing a gene or something!” She forced a laugh and sniffed back the tears. “I love her, I’m proud of her but I… I… I tried. For five years I tried, but when Steven shut me out… I’ve made a success of my career, but I’m a failure as a mother and I don‘t like to broadcast that fact. Oh God!”
The telephone rang before Charlie had a chance to speak.
“Mum, it’s me. He’s got a knife, he wants the money, will you just give him the money, please, Mum!”
Mark pulled the phone away and turned it off using one hand, the other stretching across to trap over her mouth again - only he was so busy with the phone that his grip wasn’t tight enough, she jerked her head up, and opened her mouth, clamping down as hard as she could on his finger. She felt her front teeth sink into the flesh and meet something hard; the warm metallic taste of his blood flooded her mouth.
“Arrrrrrggggggghhhh!” He pulled away, holding his finger in his other hand and pressing both to his chest.
Louise took her opportunity.
“MUM!” she screamed with so much force that she had to gulp down lungful of air before she could shout again. “IN HERE!”
Mark’s fist impacted her face, slamming her jaw shut with a force that jarred her whole skull. He picked up the knife.
“I’d put that down if I were you”.
Mark swung around to see who’d interrupted. “What are you gonna do about it Granddad?”
Charlie stepped properly into the room, but not so far in that he wouldn’t be able to escape if need be. “The police are on their way. They’re already in the building and they’ll be here any second. So just put the knife down, and let Louise go”.
He had his hands raised in front of him in a non threatening and still vaguely self protective way. Louise watched from behind Mark as Charlie inched a little closer. Still tied to the chair she couldn’t do anything to help disarm Mark, or even run away. She just hoped that Charlie knew what he was doing.
“Where’s my money?”
“You’re not going to get any money, but if you let Louise go, right now, then maybe you won’t get sent to jail for this”. She caught Charlie’s eye and knew he was taking in her bruises, and the residue of Mark’s blood around her mouth “Louise, are you alright?”
“Yes” she whispered, nodding her fragile head gently.
“Right then, so you can just put that knife down… No harm’s been done, and it won’t help you now, just drop it on the floor”
Mark visibly tightened his grip on his weapon, stood in the middle of the office, nowhere to run behind him, and Charlie blocking the only exit. Louise could also see his mind ticking over, trying to judge if he could rush the older man and escape or if he might put up a half decent fight. Mark was not only menacing, he was strong…
He lurched forward.
Charlie jumped to the side, flinging himself down on the ground with a shuddering force as once again Mark flew from the room, but before he’d even had tine to pick himself up voices could be heard coming from outside.
Scrambling to his feet, Charlie poked his head out of the door. “Looks like the cavalry arrived just in time!”
“The police have got him. You’re safe now”.
She felt her whole body sag with relief, as Charlie advanced upon her, pulling a small pair of scissors from his pocket and cutting through the tape that bound her. As soon as she was free she wrapped her arms around him, clinging on to him for safety.
“When he ran at you I thought he was going to kill you!” she said, speaking into his shoulder, reluctant to let go.
“Yeah,” Charlie breathed, shaken, “So did I! But we’re alright. Aren’t we?”
He pulled away from her, and as he moved from he line of vision Louise saw Jan standing in the doorway watching them. Distanced from them, and seemingly unwilling to come closer. Her mouth twitched a few times as she struggled to find the right words. “I’m glad you’re safe Louise”.
Louise waited for more to be said. Some declaration of love, a reassuring hug, she would even have been happy to receive a mouthful of abuse for getting into such a mess to start with; that at least would have showed she cared.
From outside the door she heard a unknown male voice, presumably one of the police officers. “Ms Goddard? Could I have a word?”
She turned. “Certainly”, and left.
“I think she’s in shock. I think we all are” Louise looked up at Charlie startled, having almost forgotten he was there. “She really does care about you”.
Louise checked her expression mentally, were her doubts really that obvious, or perhaps this man was just astute. Either way she wasn’t sure she could believe his assertion. “That’s why she’s here now is it, looking after me, making sure I’m okay…”
“You’re not with her either”.
“She’s my mother. Not that you’d know it”. She stood up shakily, and headed for the door.
“Look, I don’t even know you, so don’t think I’m going to listen to your opinions about my life. She doesn’t care, she never has. She walked out on me when I was five and for the last fifteen years I’ve had hardly anything to do with her. She loves her work more than me. So much more than me that she can happily sit in an office down the hall, protecting her precious hospital funds while I end up like this!” She gestured to her swelling face, before turning back to the door. “And you know what? I don’t care about her either!”
She didn’t look back at his face, she couldn’t be certain that she could keep up the pretence if she did.
“Excuse me” The policeman seemed to appear from nowhere, but she was grateful for the distraction, “Miss Goddard?”
“Cartwright. Louise Cartwright”.
“She’s upset Jan, you have to talk to her” Charlie said, as he put the final Steri-strip across the cut in her head. With all the congealed blood cleaned up it looked far less offensive than it did before, not that she cared much about that anymore.
She nodded distractedly, and hopped down from the cubicle‘s trolley. “I will”.
“I’m serious Jan. She thinks you don’t care about her at all… You could have come into that room, shown her how much she means to you…”
Jan couldn‘t look at him and directed her attention to the tiled floor instead. She had wanted to go to her, but seeing Louise getting on so effortlessly with Charlie, a stranger to all intents, when they were hardly on speaking terms with each other was too much. It reminded her what a distance there was between them, it made her feel uncomfortable. “I didn’t know what to say, and the police needed to talk to me”.
“The police could have waited thirty seconds, and it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s just the being there that counts”.
She listened, nodded again. “Where is she?”
“Duffy’s tidying her up. Cubicle four. Jan…”
“I wish you’d opened up to me before now. I wish you’d been honest, then maybe things would never have turned out this way”.
She saw the sadness in his face, heard it in his voice, felt it in herself. “I will be from now on, Charlie, we could try again?”
He was shaking his head before she’d finished the sentence. “Try again with Louise”. He swished back the curtain and stepped out into the A&E’s busy corridor.
“Where are you going?”
“To call my son. I don’t want my relationship with her to end up like yours and Louise’s”.
She understood. Achingly, she understood, and would have wished herself back to a time when she could have changed things if she didn’t know deep down that she would only do the same again. Louise as a child, had been too difficult for her to cope with alone, but now Louise was an adult, and perhaps there was something salvageable left.
Standing outside cubicle four she could hear Duffy and Louise talking.
“He seemed so nice…”
“Mark could be nice, he’s never acted that way around me before. Now I come to think of it though he was always taking calls and he wouldn’t tell me who from, and he always had more cash than he could possibly have been earning. I just didn’t want to think that it could be anything dodgy. He always knew how to get around me too. How could I have been so stupid!”
“It’s not that stupid. When you fall for someone you believe them”.
“He just used me for the money Mum sent”.
“You weren’t to know.”
“I really thought I loved him. You just can’t trust that the people you love love you back though”.
“You’re very young to be so cynical Louise”.
Jan felt terrible listening to such words, knowing that whilst Louise was referring to Mark there was a subtext about herself. Gently she pushed aside the curtain. “Is it alright if I come in?”
Duffy nodded, “I’m done… I’ll leave you to it”, and Jan was grateful of the woman’s tact as she walked out of the cubicle, closing the curtain behind her.
Jan took in the badly swollen features of her daughter’s face. She was almost unrecognisable. “Does it hurt?”
She racked her mind for something more to say. “Do you need me to find you some more pain killers?”
“I don’t need you for anything”.
“Louise. I’m making an effort, the least you could is the same”. She felt the urge to reach out and hold her, comfort her somehow, but Louise’s frosty attitude made her wonder if the act would be appreciated. She held back.
“I don’t need more painkillers, thank you”.
“Is there anything else that you do need? I could call your father…?”
“And hand me over?”
“No!” Jan protested, with heartfelt passion, “I just thought you might be more comfortable with him. You clearly don’t want me around”.
She saw Louise’s stony expression soften. “I do want you around, you just never are. You never have been. You’d rather be in this dump!”
She wanted to refute the comment, and could see that Louise was waiting for her to, but there was an undeniable element of truth to it. Even before Steven shut her out she’d always been more at home, at work. But it wasn’t Louise’s fault, and she didn’t know how to explain that to her.
“I know I haven’t been a very good mother to you, but I honestly want to make it up to you. I was so scared for you darling”.
“That cute doctor, Kaminski or something, he said I was fit to go as soon as the nurse finished - and she has. We could go somewhere, talk properly…”
“Yes… Only, I do need to discuss some things with the police, and also with internal security. I should really release a press statement too… and I still haven’t sorted out what happened to Dr Stone”.
“Who? Mum, you said that I was more important than work!”
“And you are. But tonight has been somewhat eventful, one of the paramedics was stabbed, one of our doctors was arrested and then what happened with us… there are things that I have to do”.
Louise jumped down from the bed and pulled the curtain back. “Leave it until the morning, just a few hours won’t hurt”.
“I really can’t. I’ll catch up with you in the morning though, I promise”.
“Don’t bother! I’m going to Dad’s. You stay here with your precious hospital!” She walked off without a backward glance, leaving Jan staring after her; part angry at Louise for storming off. More angry at herself for not stopping her from going.
“Jan?” She heard Duffy’s voice as though it was very distant, even though the nurse stood only feet away. “I need to strip the cubicle ready for the next patient…”
“Your daughter gone?”
“Yeah. She’s gone”.
“You didn’t want to go with her?”
“Of course I wanted to, it’s not always so easy though.” It should be, she thought to herself, it should be. She could see in Duffy’s face that the other woman didn’t understand. Nobody, it seemed, did. It all came so naturally to women like Duffy, to men even like Charlie and Steven. And she hated that. “Excuse me”.
Striding off down the corridor, trying to keep her head held high, she heard behind her Dillon calling to Duffy, “Hey, I’ve just been on the phone to the ward. Nikki’s out of theatre, the op was a success!”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. I’ll let Charlie know”.
Jan smiled inwardly with relief, at least one thing was turning out right at last. As she passed by Charlie’s office, she saw him through the window, on the telephone, grinning, engrossed in conversation. That terrible pang of jealousy returned, heightened when Duffy brushed past her and entered the office to deliver the good news. She wanted to go in, to join in with their celebration but she didn’t. She stayed on the outside, looking in.