“Bastard four by fours.” Sara sat upright in the hospital bed and released a stream of vivid epithets that made the elderly woman in the next bed cover her ears. “Bastard four by fours. Think they own the sodding place. Come up tailgating you. And don’t even stop when they drive you off the bloody road.”
She had a large, purple bruise on her forehead and a black eye. The police said the old 2CV was a write-off. If it hadn’t been for a passer-by who came upon the car, upside down in a ditch on the narrow rat run to the A20, Sara might have been in the same state. The nurse had taken Alison to one side when she arrived at the hospital and tried to be as comforting as she could. Minor injuries and concussion, she said. But Sara had been unconscious when they found her, saved from tumbling through the windscreen by her seat belt. She was upside down, for how long no-one knew since the other car never stopped, and there was some abdominal bruising. Alison asked, immediately, about the baby, and the nurse just shrugged. “You’ll have to talk to the doctor. He’ll be round in a minute.”
Sara stared at her now with big, shocked eyes and said, “I’m bleeding. Not a lot, but they seem worried all the same.”
Alison held her hand and was glad that Sara had given her name and number when they asked for someone to contact. The brief, painful breach between them was irrelevant now. “Don’t worry. That’s not unusual and it doesn’t mean you’ve lost anything. At least you’re here. They know what to do.”
She would keep the child. Alison felt certain of that. Sara had such determination, such solidity. Still the questions kept on coming. “Who was it? Tailgating you?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t taking much notice. One moment there was nothing behind me. The next I just saw this shape. I braked, and then I was going off the road. I loved that car, you know. It’s a good job the bastard never stopped. I would have taken a swing at him.”
Sara closed her eyes. “It had to be a him, didn’t it? Not that I saw.”
“Sara,” Alison said carefully, “what were you talking to the Blamires about? When you left?”
She groaned. “Paternoster Farm. What do you think? They work there. I thought it might be worth pumping them.”
Alison put a hand on her shoulder and said, very firmly, “Not now.”
“The boys didn’t like talking about it. Mucky business.”
They were interrupted by the duty doctor. He looked about eighteen and utterly exhausted. Alison glanced at her watch. It was nearly nine. The day seemed to have lasted forever.
“And you are?” the doctor asked abruptly.
“A friend,” Sara interjected.
“And your, um, partner? Where is he?”
Sara smiled icily. “I’m single. But talk down to me anyway. I’ll do my best to understand.”
“I’m keeping you in for a day or two. You got a nasty shake-up and concussion. Have you had bleeding before?”
She shook her head.
“Well, it’s not that unusual in the first twenty weeks, but it can be a sign of threatened miscarriage. I don’t think there’s anything wrong just now, but let’s make sure, shall we? A spot of complete bed rest for the weekend. I’ll prescribe some flurazepam. It’ll help you sleep and relax the muscles too. There’s not a lot you can do at this stage but rest and wait.”
Sara sighed. “Can it be harmed? In an accident like this?”
He didn’t look much concerned. “Of course. But a foetus is a pretty tough little character. If it was in trouble, we’d know by now. Some sleep, some rest and it’ll just go back to getting on with the job.”
Alison patted the bedclothes. “There. I told you it will be OK. Do you want me to stay?”
She looked scared. Alison knew the feeling. They both hated hospitals. “Only if you want. No, go home. Come back in the morning with some croissants from Tesco’s. The food here is bound to be pure cack.”
“Worse than that,” the doctor said, then ambled off. The nurse arrived with a small tray of pills and a glass of water. Sara did as she was told and, in a remarkably short time, was looking drowsy.
“That’ll keep her out for seven, eight hours,” the nurse said. “You might as well take a break.”
“True,” Sara agreed drowsily. “Go home. Don’t do anything silly. Promise.”
Alison got up, feeling old and creaky. “Promise. What about the police?”
“Still here,” the nurse said. “Hunky piece of plod. You can catch him in reception.”
The policeman looked like a rugby player, six feet six in his stocking feet, with blond, close cropped hair and a sparky, almost naïve expression. She strode straight up to him and asked, “What are you doing about Miss Harrison’s accident? I trust you’re going to get the bastard responsible.”
He wilted visibly. “Don’t suppose you smoke, do you? Pop outside for a fag?”
Alison stared him in the eye. He seemed so young. And fair. His blond hair was almost yellow. His skin was pale but not bloodless. He looked the picture of health… and absolutely not like a policeman. “Done,” she sighed.
The night was clear, the stars alive. A bright, full moon stood over the world illuminating everything. He gave her a cigarette and lit it, cupping his hands around hers to guard the match. “Makes a change from chasing trick and treaters,” he said. “Justin Liddle, by the way. PC. Community plod. Who the devil are you?”
“Alison Fenway. A neighbour of Sara’s in Beulah. She called for me.”
He groaned. “Oh, yes. The Ya… the American lady. I’d been meaning to call, being your part-time village plod and all. Beulah. What a place. I’d rather spend a Saturday night chasing ram raiders down town than get mixed up with you lot. Which is doubtless why they gave me it. Bastards.”
She was genuinely bemused. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s just… weird up there. If people break the law, I go for them. In Beulah… nothing’s that simple. But then you probably know that better than me.”
“Haven’t lived there long enough.”
“No.” He had bright, intelligent eyes that were now looking straight into hers. “So you haven’t been assimilated yet? Once they’ve got you, there’s no chance you’d speak to the likes of me. You could carry out blue murder in the middle of the day up there and I’d bet a penny for a pound there’d be no witnesses.”
She filed the comment, and his name, for future reference. Justin Liddle seemed a very odd PC indeed. “Are you going to find the bastard responsible for this?”
“Sherlock Holmes could do that. Maybe. But I’m not him. She’s got no description of the car. It didn’t touch her little Citroen, so there’s no paint. I can’t even see any skid marks on the road except hers. Unless he comes into the station and coughs he’s clear away with it. Typical country accident if you ask me. Typical Beulah accident.”
She felt the anger welling up inside her again. “And that’s it? Someone nearly kills a pregnant woman. And that’s it?”
He looked at her and there was an unwarranted amount of sympathy in his face. “You really haven’t lived there long, have you? This isn’t The Archers, you know? Nice little country folk doffing their caps every time their Morris Minors happen to pass each other. Those lanes are made for road rage. Scares the life out of me driving up there and I’m wearing a uniform. We get it all the time. And unless you grab them while it’s happening, or get a number plate, we’re stuffed. You tell me. No description, no number, no evidence. How are we supposed to find him? Tarot cards?”
“It’s an idea,” she mumbled.
“Right. A Toyota Land Cruiser for the Devil. A Range Rover for the Hanged Man. I’ll let you know when we’ve got the pack assembled.”
She rather liked him and he knew it. “I’ll tell you what to look for. A man with a minute dick.”
“Primary source of road rage. Male inadequacy. What else could make people behave like that?”
“I’ll just have to take your word on that. Seriously though, Alison. You see the problem?”
“Seriously though, Justin, I see nothing except my best friend in a hospital bed covered in bruises wondering if she’s about to lose her baby.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll take another look at the scene in daylight. In the meantime…” He held something out in the moonlight. “Here’s my card. You can always get me on that number.”
She stared at it and thought to herself: PCs who hand out business cards. What next? And wondered about the mysterious bone, nestling in a wad of cotton wool in a matchbox hidden above the Aga. If Miles was on one of his long absences, Justin would be pleasant company for afternoon tea and a little, exploratory chat.
“Thanks,” she said, and stomped back into the hospital.
(c) David Hewson 2012