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How to Save a Life

By Sarah-Anne Dexter


Chapter 1

Grace Pullman told her husband that they needed to discuss his behaviour. His erratic and secretive personality that had become him over the past few weeks and months. But he tried to walk away, heading to the door. "All I want to do is talk to you, Gordon!" she shouted. "Sit down and listen to me, for once in your life!"

So he stayed, but refused to sit. He smiled at his wife, and that particular smile told Grace she didn't have a hope in hell of finding out what was going on. It was the polite, slightly condescending smile he had taught his daughter to use when she didn't want to go into something. How frustrating it was for Grace to have both Gordon and Sandra so alike, so guarded.

She stared out the window for a minute and reigned in her temper before she said, "Please, Gordon. Please, what's going on?"

"Nothing is going on," he replied, walking away from her to look at the photo of the three of them – Grace, Gordon and their beautiful Sandra – and then turned back to face his wife. Grace watched him, and knew he blamed her. She knew he was having an affair, but she didn't know what else was going on. He was too scared to tell her.

"Has something happened at work?" she demanded. He stared at the floor, and he was smiling bitterly to himself.

"No, it's fine, Grace," he insisted. She couldn't help feeling that he was scared of her, and how she'd react to whatever had changed him so drastically. That was why she was hiding this from Sandra. She didn't want Sandra, who was such a pure daddy's girl, to love her father any less for whatever was happening. For whatever the hell he did three days ago that had him come bloodied and silent.

"Gordon," she sighed. But she knew it was pointless. She was aware there was no hope of extracting the problem from him. And she didn't really even understand why she was trying in vain to help a man who was blocking any attempt to ease the burden.

What was it she was meant to have done to him to make him so distant? Was it how she acted? Or how brisk she was? He was acting like he didn't trust her anymore, let alone love her like he used to. There was a time when she was his best friend s well as his wife, the one he would trust with anything. Now, though, he would barely look at her.

Somewhere in him she knew there was some kind of remorse for his betrayal, and for whatever else he had done. He had an air of self-loathing about him now, like he despised everything about himself. It made him resentful and difficult to live with; it made his temper so short with his wife but with his daughter, he craved her adoration of him. Grace had watched over the past couple of years as he had become almost estranged with her and so close to Sandra. And Sandra loved him dearly because of the effort he made for her.

Little did Grace know that in a week's time, her husband would have committed suicide and she would be left to raise Sandra on her own, while Sandra became bitter towards her mother. And Grace just knew that she would have stayed beside her husband all day and all night if she had known how to do it. She thought it was a pity that nobody could have devised an instruction manual for her, on how to save his life.

Jack Halford met Gordon at the pub, and whispered to him, "I know you killed him. Why don't you tell me why?" he suggested. He was the lead investigator, and he knew how best to help Gordon here. All Gordon needed was to realise that Jack could make it easier on him and his family, and whoever else was tangled in this complex web of deceit and betrayal.

"Can't tell you that, Jack," he answered solemnly into his pint glass. "I can't hurt Sandra and Grace by letting them find out what I've done." Jack just shook his head despairingly. This wasn't as simple as Gordon killing a man. Something or someone else was involved in this. He was protecting someone. Not the killer; there was no doubt that Gordon Pullman killed the man and tried to cover it up, but someone vulnerable, who actually needed defending.

"Trust my judgement on this," Jack implored, but he could tell he was getting nowhere with trying to help his friend. He was trying to help him without abandoning the law. He refused to let the killer off with this, regardless of who was killed and who did the killing, but he needed to know what was going on. He needed to help Gordon, Grace, Sandra and anyone else who was in danger from this.

"Look," Jack continued, "this is what I know. First, you killed Ian Randall. Second, you did it to protect someone. And third, you didn't do it for no reason. My problem is that I have know bloody clue as to why you, of all people, killed a man. I need to know what is going on. If I know that, I can help," he persisted.

"Jack," Gordon replied. "There is nothing you can do. I've made a mess I can't fix." He patted Jack's shoulder, finishing the last of his drink. "Do me one favour: when Sandra joins the Met, which I know she will, look after her. And look after Grace for me. Please?"

Jack nodded in response, and then sighed and watched him leave, just hoping that he'd listened to him. He needed Gordon to do the right thing and hand himself in and explain why on Earth he had killed a man and alienated his wife and betrayed his beautiful daughter's trust. If he did that, than Jack could help him and find a way to be a bit more lenient on him. Otherwise, he could not help him.

Jack wondered why Gordon didn't trust him to fix this. They were, after all, friends. Gordon was a good detective and was a good man. There was something more to this crime of passion, but he was damned if he could get it out of him.

Somewhere along the line, Gordon had been caught up in something he now couldn't handle, and found something or someone, aside from Grace and Sandra, he was willing to murder to protect. And it made him strangle defensive, like he was terrified those closest to him would find out his darkest secret.

Five days later, Gordon Pullman was found dead in his car, having committed suicide. And he and Grace hid it from Sandra, saying he had a sudden heart attack. The poor girl didn't need to know that her dad had taken the only option that would keep him out of trouble. Jack knew that, if Gordon had been willing to turn himself in to the police, he could have stayed in that pub till closing time, and found away to make the consequences easier. If he had admitted to the affair they both knew he had, then he could work out how to call it manslaughter of self-defence instead of murder.

And if Gordon had trusted him and Jack had pushed harder for the truth, Jack could perhaps just saved his life. If he had known how to, he would have done anything he could to make sure that fourteen-year-old Sandra still had a dad.

Sandra Pullman had noticed an atmosphere of stress about her dad recently, and she had asked him what was wrong. She had gone into the living room while her mum was out and tried to talk to her dad. "It has nothing to do with you, Sandra!" he insisted, his voice rising in volume steadily. "Don't worry about it!"

"But Dad," she answered, "it's making you ill. Look at yourself," she said. "You look tired and stressed and you're as red as a tomato," she explained, she almost whispered, trying to make him hear her. Whatever had happened had hurt her dad, it was making him ill. The tension was going to kill him if he didn't watch out.

She decided giving him an ultimatum. "Tell me, or I'm going to give you the cold shoulder," she smiled. She didn't really mean it; it was just a ploy to get him to give her a truthful answer. "I love you, Dad, but I hate watching whatever this is making you sick. You look like you could keel over and die any minute," she admitted.

He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, and Sandra let her head rest on his chest. For a moment, she honestly believed he was going to tell her, but he didn't. "I've just changed, Sandra," he sighed into her hair. Sandra gave a little huff but let him hold her tightly. He dad was everything to her, and she didn't want to lose him.

"Are you ill, Dad?" she asked him, turning her head to look into his face. "I don't want to lose you without a warning."

"I'll be fine, honey," he promised her. She took that as a "yes" and closed her eyes. He was ill. She didn't ask how ill, or what was wrong with him. She just put her arm around his front and snuggled into him, wanting to spend as much time as she could with her dad. "Just never forget that I love you more than anything in the world," he reminded her, and kissed her hair.

She smiled and turned again to see his face. She kissed his cheek and said, "I love you too, Daddy." She was lost as to why she was even trying to get it out of him now. He wasn't going to tell her what was making him sick. He was too bent on protecting her feelings.

Or was it that he didn't trust her? She was fourteen, for Christ's sake. She could be trusted. She could handle Dad being ill. He was her best friend on the entire planet, the one she would always go to if there was anything she was in need of. She could remember when he told her everything. He used to tell her if he argued with Mum, if he'd fallen out with a friend, even if he was having a hard time at work. But now he told her nothing. His loving nature towards her hadn't changed in the slightest, but he was so secretive that she was constantly in the dark.

She thought that, at some point, he had decided to try and keep her as calm and as happy as he could by not letting on when something went wrong. After all, school was getting serious now, and she planned to go to University and on to Hendon, following in Dad's footsteps.

She never thought that, two days later, she would be crying in her room when her dad died from a heart attack. She thought the stress of knowing he was ill and trying to disguise it had caused him to have a heart attack. If she had thought it would have helped, she would have never left his side that night. If she'd known how, she would have tried to prolong her time with him. She would have extracted some sort of explanation out of him and eased his burden, saving is life for just a little longer.

Grace still wonders, thirty-three years later, if she could have done something more. It's all out in the open now, and maybe it always should have been. As she lies in this hospital bed after having a stroke, she realises that Sandra has never needed protected. They were always wrong about that. Gordon should have realised his little girl was the toughest of cookies.

So now Sandra knows Jack and her mother lied to her since she was a teenager and she is furious with them. And she doesn't believe what Jack always has known and Grace suspected: Gordon had been in a very deep hole when he committed suicide.

Grace still regrets not persisting with him that week, seven days before he died. It's been eating her for thirty-three years. And she knows that, if she had realised the extent of what was going on, she would have tried harder. If she had understood how desperate he had become, she would have made him sit down and talk, and she would have saved his life.

Jack is sitting at home, wondering if he could have stopped Gordon from dying. Sandra currently was disgusted by his lies. To be honest, though he maintains he was protecting her, he doesn't really blame her for feeling deceived. Who wouldn't? He's done what Gordon asked of him; he's looked after Sandra until she was almost like a daughter of his own. And he knows that, sometime and somehow, Sandra will forgive his lie and realise her father did things that were nothing to be proud of.

He just wishes he'd made Gordon stay and let him help. He wishes Gordon had been the one to watch Sandra's back as she shot up the ranks of the Metropolitan Police. He would have loved to watch his little girl follow his footsteps, without making the mess he did. He could just see his face if he had been alive to hear that his daughter had been handed three old codgers and a cold-case squad as punishment for shooting a dog.

If Jack had honestly thought he could have done anything to force Gordon, short of simply arresting him, he would have done it. Even to this day he knows that, had he had any clue as to where to start, he could have been the one to keep Gordon alive. Sandra reminds him daily, and today more than any other, that he failed her all those years ago by not trying harder to save his life.

Sandra is leaning her elbows on the table of the café her dad used to take her to when she was little. How could Mum and Jack lie to her like that, for thirty-three years? She lost her dad, and they made her think it was a heart attack. They couldn't have known that he let Sandra think he was upset because he was ill, but because he had, it made it easier for her to swallow that story. When did she really lose her dad? She knows the answer now. The second he got involved in the mess that made him kill himself.

She believes, deep down, that Jack is right. Jack wouldn't lie to her about that sort of thing. Somewhere along the line, her father turned into a bitter, lying and deceitful man, but she still loved him. He was the only person who truly got her to leave her guard down.

Sandra Pullman knows that she would have stayed up with her dad all night, every night, if she knew how awful he had to have felt. The only problem was that, just like her mum and Jack, she didn't, and still doesn't, know how to save a life.

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