He swung the wheelchair towards the door, swearing mildly as he trapped his hand between the rim and the edge of the desk. It hurt! He shook it, flexing his fingers until the pain eased, and reached for the door handle, pulling it open. He needed to back up the chair slightly before he could get out of the door, back into the lounge, and by that time he could hear Patrick in the hall talking with Nanny.
They came through, and he was glad to see that the inspector was smiling. So, it couldn’t be bad news! Nanny, of course, immediately saw Brad’s pale face, and his left hand clenched close against him on his lap as he tried to manoeuvre the wheelchair forward with only his right one.
“Goodness! What have you done now?” She sounded flippantly perplexed. “Are you hurt?”
He shrugged. “No, Nanny. I just knocked my hand against the desk. It’ll be ok in a second - I hope!”
She sighed, shaking her head slowly. “You have become the most accident-prone man on the planet! I don’t think that’s necessary to keep your wife’s attention, you know!”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, Nanny.” He grinned, extending his right hand to Patrick. “Hi, Paddy! Glad to see you again.”
The inspector seemed surprised, but he shook Brad’s hand. “Good morning, Brad. I heard you were - on the mend again now. Nothing much gets by anybody in this community!”
Nanny pushed the wheelchair further into the lounge, and closed the study door before she withdrew to leave the two men to talk. Patrick sat down on one of the couches, eyeing Brad critically.
“You were rather - silent - when I tried to chat to you a couple of weeks ago in church. I hope you’re feeling a bit better. You certainly look better! There has been a - development - that I think you ought to be made aware of, if you feel up to it.”
“Yes, it seems that I’ve missed quite a few things while I’ve been locked up in my own selfish world of dejection! Sorry Paddy! I’m sure I owe everybody an apology. I’m getting better - I hope. Carrie’s helping me get things into perspective.”
“You owe nobody apologies. Everyone understands.”
“I wish that I did! I really hate this blasted wheelchair. But Carrie seems to think I’ll get back on my feet again, and her positivity is rubbing off on me.” He sighed, heavily. “So, what ‘development’ do we need to chat about, Paddy?”
As usual, Patrick came straight to the point. “The CID informs me that a foreign guy has been asking questions about your family lately. Just general questions that a tourist might ask, but we have been told that he is apparently under investigation. They don’t have the jurisdiction to arrest him as he hasn’t committed any crime here yet, but are watching his movements closely. Security here are watching out for any unknown person entering the estate, as you know, but we’re asking that you all be aware and vigilant if you leave the estate at all.”
“Does this guy have a name?” Brad asked casually, but his eyes were narrowed, and he clenched the fingers of his right hand impulsively.
“A few, I believe. The one he’s using at the moment is Randolf Everson. Apparently, he approached Edmund and Eileen at the theatre on Saturday evening.”
That made Brad grin. “You don’t miss much, do you? How did you find that out? It was only yesterday that they mentioned it to me!”
Patrick laughed. “Got a call from a friend in the Yard this morning. I told you they’re watching him closely!” A pause, then, “So you know about this chap?”
“My lawyer was contacted a couple of months ago by someone who I think was this guy. Reckons he’s Sarah’s father. I have my doubts about that, but it seems that you all have everything under control in any case. Why don’t you just let him come here, and then arrest him?”
“He’s clever. Won’t just try to get on to this estate without making an appointment to see you, and in any case, folk outside this community still think that you’re somewhat of a recluse, so he’s not getting the answers to his questions that he expects. Plus, I heard that Edmund gave him a tongue-lashing too!” He grinned. “My friend said they expected a punch-up! But it wouldn’t have got out of hand, even if this guy hadn’t left in such a hurry! We cops are not as ineffectual as some folk think we are!”
“Seems not!” Brad said, smiling. “But I’m not likely to be making any appointments, with anybody that I don’t know personally, for quite a while, so he won’t get into this estate without some ingenuity on his part!”
“Just please warn your family to watch out for anyone taking too great an interest in the Conways, and definitely not to talk to any media personnel. Although, I think they know that already!”
“Chris is getting back from Germany later today. Is he going to be safe? Roy will be picking him up at Heathrow about five this evening!”
Patrick smiled and nodded quickly. “Perfectly safe! This fool is not really dangerous per se! And Roy seems to be able to handle anything. But - as I said - the police are watching this guy like a hawk. The only time he’s out of their sight is when he’s in his hotel room, - and even that is bugged! You lot are more guarded than royalty! Not every country can boast their own miracle man, you know!”
Brad closed his eyes for a moment as he felt a shudder go through him! Miracle man? Did people still think that? Surely, they knew by now that he was in a wheelchair?
“Will you stay for tea, Paddy?” he asked, changing the subject rapidly. “Carrie is still helping Vicki and Julie with the babies, but she’ll be here shortly.”
“Thanks Brad. You know I’m always ready for the great tea that is served in this place! That reminds me, - Joanne asked me to get Nanny’s recipe for the date fingers. Don’t let me go home without it, or I’ll be in trouble!” He laughed. “My daughter has become more the law in our house than I am - or even her mother!”
After tea, when Patrick had taken his leave, - along with the recipe and a box of date fingers and chocolate brownies, - Carrie took Brad outside in the wheelchair. The paved pathways were almost dry after the rain, though the grass appeared to be still sodden. The beech and chestnut trees, as well as the old oak trees that had lost their branches in the ferocious storm, had been either trimmed or removed, so the gardens were mostly looking neat and tidy again. Angus, the head gardener, was busy in the summer house, sorting bulbs into the big black seed boxes ready for planting when the cold winter season had ended, and he greeted them with a huge smile and a wave as they passed.
They entered the maze with it’s neatly trimmed hedges and smooth walkways at the side of the arbour, aware that Angus had watched them.
“I think he’s surprised to see me out here,” Brad muttered. “I have a lot of restitution to make! Seems like my depression upset everybody else too.”
“And now, my love? Do you still feel that you don’t want to play at the variety concert for the war veterans? I told Basil Henson that he should ask you again at a later date! There’s still another three weeks till the show.”
Brad swallowed, and sighed. “I don’t know, Carrie. Quite honestly, I feel too ashamed to be pushed onto that stage in a wheelchair, after everyone seems to know about the miracle I once had.”
“That you still have,” Carrie said quickly. She stopped pushing the wheelchair forward, and put the brake on. “Within three weeks you could be back on your feet. In any case, they want to use the hall here as a venue so it’s expected that you will play.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Are you warm enough out here? It’s still a bit windy. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another storm brewing!”
“I’m ok. But what about you, my love? I don’t want you to have to push me out here if you’re going to be cold.”
“I’m fine, Brad. You need to get out into the fresh air. You’ve hardly been out for weeks. I’d like to take you for a drive to the lake, but - but I’m still too nervous to drive your car.”
Brad turned his head to look back at her, and he smiled. “It’s our car, sweetheart. We need to get you a new one, I think. And you don’t need to be nervous. You’re a very careful driver. I can ask Roy to take you out for a few quick refresher lessons if you like, until you get used to being behind the wheel again.”
She returned his smile, leaning forward to kiss him on his cheek. “Would you like to go to the lake, Brad? Or maybe to the park?”
“Not the park!” He sounded suddenly panicked. “Too many people there! Please Carrie, I - I don’t want anyone to see me like this!”
She kissed him again. “It’s ok, love. Relax. I understand. We’ll only go out driving when you feel better.” She smiled, adding gently, “You do realise that most of the people on the estate have already seen you in the wheelchair at church? Everyone understands, Brad!”
“I know. I just feel so - so helpless. It’s embarrassing! And - I suppose I’m scared too.”
He raised his chin, and reached around to pull her forward onto his lap, looking deep into her eyes. “Yes, Carrie! I’m terrified that people will lose their own faith because of this. I was always so adamant that God and I had an understanding. Just because I seem to have lost Him now, doesn’t mean that I don’t still believe that! I don’t understand why He’s so angry with me that He’d take my miracle away, but I don’t want to be the cause of anyone else doubting His love.” He swallowed. “And I’m scared that I can’t live up to His expectations of me anymore! I made so many promises, and I always fail Him somehow.”
“You never fail Him, Brad. That’s only in your mind.” She kissed away the tears in his eyes before they welled over. “I’m not going to allow you to fall back into that dismal melancholy again. We came out here to do some breathing exercises. Let’s begin.”
He gave her a rather nervous smile. He knew what she wanted as she stood up again in front of him. She raised both of his arms to the side, in line with his shoulders. They had done this when she had first come here, when he was learning to walk again after his second spinal op, then again after his third. There had been so much pain in those days. Then, when someone had shot him, while he was recovering, it had been a different pain, more intense, making breathing difficult. At least now, these breathing exercises didn’t hurt, either his back or his shoulder, and he could easily inhale and exhale without knife-like pain in his chest.
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate as he listened to Carrie’s instructions. He knew he was blessed beyond all that he deserved, and knowing that, just made him feel more spiritually guilty. God would forgive him for his lack of faith, he knew that, but would he ever forgive himself?