Terror Firma

Chapter 5

Bill was relieved when his shift finished and he could head for home.

He had learned nothing new to confirm his suspicions, but neither had he found any reason to allay them. He had been edgy, and when Bull had challenged him, he had been really worried that he had overplayed his hand, aroused suspicions himself. He would never get to the truth if they were on to him, and he daren't think what would happen to the family if he lost his job now.

Once again he considered letting the whole thing go. Perhaps it really wasn't worth it. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel as he sat in traffic, his mind in turmoil. Every time he decided to let it drop, his conscience pricked him. He was caught between a rock and a hard place and he couldn't see any way out.

Cat and Sean were waiting by the elevator when he got home, as he knew they would be.

Same ritual every night.

They would wait for him, hand in hand; just where he'd left them when he'd gone to work, as if they had been frozen in time and hadn't moved all the while he was gone.

Their faces lit up as the doors slid silently open and he strode out to greet them. For a moment, all his worries melted away in the sheer joy of their reunion. A casual observer would have thought that he'd been away at war for years, to see the intensity of their embrace. But Bill and Cat, despite nine years of marriage, were still as much in love as newlyweds, and they didn't care who knew it.

Sean waited patiently while his parents kissed and hugged, while Daddy lifted Mom and swung her gently round, giggling like a schoolgirl. Then it was his turn. The huge strong arms swept him up, calloused but gentle hands grasped him firmly under the armpits and hoisted him up almost to the ceiling, spinning him round like a helicopter, legs and arms akimbo.

"Faster, Daddy, faster." He laughed, and then rode his father's shoulders back into the apartment, in a reply of the earlier scene, only in reverse.

Once inside, Bill carried his son to his small bedroom, decorated with sports cars on the wallpaper and duvet cover. The floor was not cluttered, but one or two toys had escaped the daily tidy – a big green plastic dumper truck and a bulldozer. Daddy's job was a constant source of fascination. A yellow hardhat – thinner, unable to protect him from anything heavier than a Lego brick, but otherwise a reasonable facsimile of the real thing – hung on a hook on the back of the door. A small train set sat atop the chest of drawers. A huge teddy stood guard at the foot of the bed, a crucifix hung on the wall at the head end. Bill set him down by the bed.

"Get undressed now, sport," he ordered, "we'll be in to say goodnight soon."

"Yes, sir!" Sean saluted smartly, but it was not a gesture born of fear, more a shared game. Bill returned the salute with a wink, then tousled his son's hair affectionately and about faced, heading for the bathroom to wash up for dinner.

Once Sean had been settled, Bill told Cat about his day at work over dinner, as usual. Today, he omitted to mention the feelings of having been watched, the worry. Instead, he passed on the good wishes of his workmates for the health of his wife and her baby. He did broach the subject of his dilemma long enough to ask her what she felt about him talking things over with David Beckett.

"Are you sure you can trust him, Bill?" she was pushing her food around her plate with her fork, distracted, her appetite jaded.

"I'm almost certain I can." He met her eyes across the table, neatly laid out, crisp linen tablecloth embroidered around the edges with sprawling vines, perfectly matching those adorning the rims of the crockery, but sewn by hand, not department store bought.

"I thought I'd call Frank and ask him his opinion of David. He's given him a lift home once or twice, and knows him a lot better than I do."

That reminded him, and he proceeded to tell Cat about the accident he'd seen on his way to work, remembering suddenly the promise he had made himself at work to check up on his friend's welfare. Caitlin chided him for not phoning as soon as he got home. She was thinking about Mary, and how she must be fretting.

As soon as the meal had been hastily concluded, she herded him over to the phone and picked up the receiver, planting it firmly in his hand. She stood over him as a teacher would a wayward pupil, watching with her arms folded while he punched in the numbers. Sometimes men could be hopeless.

When Mary answered, her voice was strained. Bill was afraid that the news was worse than he'd suspected, and cursed himself for not calling sooner. He was momentarily at a loss for words.

"Mary?"

"Is that you, Bill?"

"Uh, I was worried about Frank, I was on my way to work when I saw…."

"He's here, Bill. He wasn't hurt, thank God, but he's had a terrible shock. He'll be pleased you called."

"Are you all right, Mary?" At Cat's prompting.

"Oh, I'm okay, thanks. I got very anxious when he was so late home, but I'm just fine now. Here he is, I'll let him tell you all about it."

Bill relaxed.

Caitlin, having been reassured that Frank was uninjured, left Bill to talk to him on the phone, saying that she'd have a proper chat with Mary tomorrow over coffee. She went into the kitchen to do the dishes.

Frank's voice took over on the phone.

"Thanks for calling, Bill."

"How are you doing, Frank? I saw your pick-up at that accident. It looked like things got pretty hairy there for a while."

"You betcha. I had a lucky escape. I never saw the other car coming, Bill. If it hadn't been for David Beckett…" he paused, not wanting to put the 'if' into words.

Bill pricked up his ears at the mention of Beckett's name.

"He hitched a ride with you again?"

"Right. Good thing for me he did. He steered us clear. He was incredible. You wouldn't believe it. I mean, no disrespect, but he seems so – well, ordinary. But today, I dunno… I tell you, Bill, he's a great guy to have around in a crisis. You should have seen him. He was like Superman or something. Yup, he just leapt in and dragged that woman outa the wreck. Then he went right back in for her husband. He nearly got fried when the car blew.

And it turns out the guy was already a stiff. David was so brave. He didn't bat an eyelid, just got on and gave the woman first aid. There was blood everywhere, but he was so cool, like he did that sort of thing every day of his life, y'know? I felt so stupid. Some guy with a car phone called the paramedics. Others helped the guy in the station wagon. I just stood there, Bill, I felt 'bout as much use as a chocolate branding iron, I can tell you. The paramedics said David had saved that woman's life for sure. She'd have bled to death if he hadn't been there, if'n she hadn't gone up with car. In my book David's a real hero: Dead modest though. Just said he'd only done what he had to do. What d'ya make of that? I think he surprised hisself, to tell the truth. When it was all over he was as sick as a dawg. Hardly said a word all the way home. Matter of fact he was so distracted he didn't even realize he was home. Looked at the place like he'd never laid eyes on it before. I felt kinda sorry for him. He was blaming himself cos that driver died, but heck, no one coulda done more'n he did. I know I'm gonna be grateful to him the rest of my life for the way he got me outa danger. I go cold just thinking what might've happened."

Bill had listened intently, without interrupting. Not that it was ever easy to get a word in with Frank once he got started. He felt his friend's need to get it all off his chest, but he was also pleased by what he was hearing about David Beckett. He was surer than ever that if anyone could help him, it would be this man.

Now, Bill spent some time talking with his friend. He reassured Frank that he need not feel guilty for not taking a more active role in the rescue, saying that doing nothing was far better than blundering in and doing the wrong thing, making matters worse. Frank told him David had said much the same thing. Bill also pointed out that an abashed Frank in one piece was far more valuable to Mary and the kids than a dead hero. Frank brightened audibly at that, and Bill was glad to have been the source of some comfort.

Finally, he sent his family's best wishes to all Frank's family and invited them to come on over for coffee in the morning, as his wife had instructed. Frank said they'd look forward to it, and thanked him again for taking the trouble to call. It felt good to have friends to share problems with. That struck a cord with Bill, but he was even more certain that Frank should not have to take his particular problem on board.

Caitlin re-entered the room just as Bill hung up, having detoured via the bedroom to make sure Sean was sound asleep. She sat herself down next to Bill on the couch, nuzzling her head against his shoulder. He put his arm around her protectively, and gave the bump a gentle pat.

Then he told her all about Frank's glowing reference for David Beckett. Mrs. Donahue was every bit as impressed as her husband had been.

"He sounds like a good man, Bill. Perhaps he can help. Talk to him tomorrow; invite him over for Sunday lunch. I think I'd very much like to meet him."

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