Chapter Thirty: What do they know?
“What time will you be at the hospital tomorrow?” Lydia put the question to Christine. In one hand she held her mobile phone, and with the other she was making a hurried attempt to arrange her spectacularly untidy apartment.
Items of clothing were spewed all over her velvet, Italian, Mohair suite of chairs, and a huge pile of used mugs had amassed like a small pyramid in her kitchen sink. Although Lydia had a cleaner who came in twice a week, she still managed to whip up her apartment into a chaotic frenzy.
She made a face at her apparent lack of tidiness. She almost missed Christine’s response to her question.
“Did you get that?” Christine asked.
“Sorry - Christine, say that again.”
“I said I’ll be going to the hospital tomorrow morning, but a bit earlier than usual. Then I’ll head back to my office around lunchtime.” She sighed. “Honestly Lydia. I’m so surprised work hasn’t fired me already. I keep asking if I can leave early, or come in later, or sometimes I call in to say I won’t be coming in at all!”
Lydia laughed. “I doubt they’d fire you Christine. I’m sure your colleagues are a lot more understanding of your situation than you think.”
“I know,” Christine responded suddenly seeing the truth in it. “It’s funny. But it’s when you go through trying times, you actually see those who really have your corner. The people who I work with – those who I thought would never give a damn - have actually turned out to be the most supportive. At this moment I stand fully corrected, and a little humbled.” She smiled as the realisation hit her. “I guess I should appreciate them more.”
Lydia tusked. “Well, you’re very lucky Christine. I think you’re one of the few who can actually say they really appreciate their workplace - or work family – I suppose one should say. I once worked for a company that ostracized an employee for gaining weight, and then later fired her!”
“Oh my gosh! That’s awful. Really?”
“Yes! It was one of those extremely over the top, high-profile - take themselves way too seriously - agencies I worked for in L.A. I was only there a short while.”
“Oh Lydia. Was it you?”
“Was it me?” Lydia burst out laughing. “Oh don’t be silly Christine - It wasn’t me! I was only there as an intern. It was a work experience thing. But that said, the cattiness I witnessed there was unbelievable! In fact, it was the impetus that motivated me to start up my own company. I love to work but I want to do it on my own terms, if you know what I mean, not at the beck and call of some goon on a power trip.” Lydia paused. “Are you going to be alright tomorrow?”
Like Christine, Lydia was also silently counting down the hours. Baby Tobey’s end days were fast approaching.
“Yes,” Christine breathed. “Tobey said a very close friend of his will be arriving at the hospital, if not this evening, then tomorrow for sure. Tobey’s dead worried about his friend’s safety.”
“I know – this is such a bloody nightmare! I don’t know what the holdup is. But while Mr. Healey continues to drag his feet, I’ve done some researching of my own.” Lydia gave a mischievous chuckle. “I’ve asked a journalist mate of mine to meet me at the hospital tomorrow. He said he would be there around four-ish.”
“Around 4 o’clock? Oh drat! I’ll be back at my office by then.”
“Ahhh don’t sweat it. I’m going to have our reporter meet Mr. Healey and possibly take some secret photos of Dr. Death himself.”
Christine gasped. “Are you serious?”
“I’m always serious honey.”
“But isn’t that against some privacy law or something?”
“Yes, yes and the rest of it.” Lydia hastily replied, obviously not caring at all.
“This is crazy.” Christine laughed, “I wish I could be there to see Healey’s face.”
Lydia smiled. “How about I drop by yours tomorrow evening? Then I can tell you what happened.”
“Ok. If you don’t mind - oh wait a minute...” Christine remembered something, “I’m actually going to see my mum after work tomorrow. I don’t know how long I’ll be.” Christine thought quickly. “But…if it’s still okay with you? This is meant to be a secret - and I already know what you’re going to say - but I keep a spare key under the potted plant outside my front door. If you want to come around tomorrow, feel free to let yourself in. Or, you can meet me at my mum’s in Clapton - whichever’s easiest for you?”
“Christine!” Lydia shrieked, “Under the plant? That’s hardly inventive of you - or safe! You might as well drape Christmas lights around the base, along with some complementary mints.”
“I know, I know. But I always keep a spare set under there. I hate the thought of losing my keys, and not being able to get back into my flat. And yes, I think I fear this even more than the possibility of being robbed.” She laughed out loud. “Although, that being said, you can’t get into my apartment block without knowing the security code - so maybe not as reckless as you think - aye!”
“Security code. I bet I could get into your apartment without using it. All I need to do is buzz one of your neighbours, they’ll let me in. People don’t really check these days.”
Christine laughed again. “You’re probably right.”
“And how long do you think you’ll be at your mum’s for?”
“I don’t know. I promised I’d check up on her in the week. But really, it’s her checking up on me.”
“Okay then.” Lydia was silent. “Christine. If you can help it, try not to leave your mum’s too late. Hopefully, we’ll catch up tomorrow and I’ll let you know how we got…” A lengthy yawn swallowed up the rest of her sentence. “Imagine that. I keep telling you to get some rest, but I think it’s me that needs some. See you tomorrow Christine. Take care.”
“Thanks Lydia. You’re a star as always - get some sleep.”
Richard was sat facing his home computer. The room was in total darkness save the psychedelic glare emanating from the screen. He continued to stare at the dancing lights as though it were burning embers in an open fireplace.
As promised all emails to and from Diligence had been erased from the system. It was as if all their technical findings; discussions, revelations, over the last two years, had never happened. But unfortunately for Richard, they had. And he was nowhere near off the hook just yet.
Mmmm Paul Healey was definitely keeping something from him.
Richard grinned to himself.
Of course he was - what a buffoon!
Richard had observed that, earlier that day, after he had returned from his break, the administrator could barely look him in his eyes. He knew something!
Richard also detected a slight quiver in Paul’s voice when he spoke to him.
On seeing that, Richard proceeded to pay closer attention to Susan, the Matron. As always, she gave nothing away. But when he was eventually called in, at around 8pm, to deliver the Simon’s baby - which would have been the last specimen – the Matron had surreptitiously snuck herself into the room to oversee proceedings. He noticed she had done that a few times on his watch today…
Good thing he was ordered not to collect the specimen. He was very lucky for that phone call indeed.
All the same, whatever Paul and the Matron had on him it was inconsequential. He seriously assumed the pair had nothing but their suspicions.
Richard breathed in deeply.
He couldn’t say that he was at all surprised at Paul and the Matron’s behaviour. Deep down, he knew there was always a possibility that someone would begin to get suspicious - there were just too many deaths. It was a considerable number to conceal over a short period of time. All, taking place under his watch. Alarm bells were bound to start ringing. The question is: what can anyone really do about it?
The hospital was over-stretched and under-resourced. Who could even begin to allocate the time and energy it took to pursue a suspicion? This - was after all - the NHS. Budgets needed to be slashed, quotas filled, and staff members maintained. Honestly, who had the time to care?
Richard shook his head. If he wasn’t so tired at the moment he would have laughed out loud Yep! If he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to go anywhere! They had their suspicions and nothing else…
He picked up his phone. He was itching to do something. In fact, itching was too subtle a word. He was dying to do something.
His thumb instinctively shot up and began to caress the buttons on his phone’s keypad. Round and round it went, circling the digits of her mobile number...
He could call her, if he wanted to
Call her and say what exactly?
Then a voice in his head did call out to him. It was a voice from the past. It was a voice full of tears but the words were clear enough:
‘Whatever you touch…dies...’
Richard stared at his phone for a little while longer, and then flung the device into the top drawer. He had a moment of weakness, that was all, but thankfully it had passed. He wasn’t going to call Lydia. And he was glad he made that decision. Glad, more so, because the voice had got to him first...
Who was the voice that got to Richard?
Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense. Let me inform you, the voice was like a mother to Richard. That was because, in a way, she was just that. The voice from the past belonged to a certain woman. And that woman had once been the mother-in-law to Dr. Richard Lawson…
When Richard was nine years old he had lost his biological mother to breast cancer. His father never married again.
At his first year of university, the young medical student had narrowed his sights onto the most vivacious, and captivating woman he had ever laid his eyes on. Her name was Natasha Wilson. Like him, she, too, was an only child, and only had one parent. Her father had died in a boating accident when she was very young.
However on meeting Richard, Natasha’s mother instantly embraced the ‘soon-to-be qualified physician’ like her very own son. And in spite of his usual, reticent, self, Richard embraced her too. He liked the fuss she used to make over him, whenever he came to visit.
This is what it would have been like if my mother had been around.
A little after Richard had qualified in Paediatrics, the young couple married in a provincial church, in the Cotswold’s, where Natasha had grown up.
Richard Lawson was hugely ambitious, full of big ideas - as most young people are. But being the intensely private person, that he was, he never shared this with anyone. Only with his new, adoring wife.
On the surface this highly attractive, affluent, and enviable couple, seemed to be very happy with the world, and each other. But it soon became apparent that Richard was very much alone in his happiness, for his new bride did not really share his joy.
‘Richard. There’s something the matter with you. I can’t reach you. You’re cold, and I don’t think you realize it…’
She kept insisting it was ‘he’ who had a problem. A problem which Richard clearly could not see. He was concerned.
‘Natasha what are you on about? I’m not doing anything wrong… I’m just working.’‘That’s just it! It’s all about the work with you!’ Natasha at first teased, then chided, then she would later accuse. ’Richard. God forbid I should fall seriously ill - or anything like that. Would you be there for me then? Would you be there for our children - if we should have any? Here you are – standing there, but you’re not present. Look at me Richard. I don’t mind that you’re passionate about what you do - I married you didn’t I? Your work is everything and I understand that - really I do. But I’m afraid that underneath it all, there’s nothing more to you…but your work…’
Naturally, Richard could not see what she was going on about. What he did perceive, however, was the gradual demise of this beautiful and captivating woman he once loved very much.
‘She’ll come around soon,’ He kept reassuring himself, ‘she was just adjusting to his work commitments - that was all…She’ll come around soon…’
Richard was a practical man. If he loved her; he needed to help her. He decided it was time to call Natasha up on things. Certain things, he believed might, be bringing her down.
After all, what kind of husband would he be if he didn’t offer some words of encouragement - here, or a few positive criticisms, there?
However the more she withdrew, the more he called her up on things. But it seemed the more he mentioned her sorrow; her negligence, her depression, her shortcomings, the worse she became.
‘Why are you saying this about me Richard?’
‘I can’t do anything right by you, can I?’
‘What gives you the right to treat me like this?’
Then one day he just gave up trying to understand her. She was not the woman he thought she was.
Richard decided to do the only thing that made sense to him at the time. He too began to slowly withdraw.
It was his mother-in-law who finally relayed his wife’s decision to end the marriage. As she silently sat in their spacious living room, which provided a perfect view to their beautifully landscaped-garden, she looked as defeated as her daughter. Her soft brown eyes, that used to light up whenever Richard entered the room, were now muted and without feeling. And those lips, which lovingly planted kisses on his forehead and cheeks, were set in a thin, grey line…
‘It’s over Richard. Natasha can’t do this anymore.’
With the help of her mother, Natasha moved out of their family home.
A few years later he heard she was having a great life in Dubai. The place she had moved to shortly after their divorce. He later heard she had settled down and married a wealthy entrepreneur.
And that would have been that, except...
‘Richard is that you?’
The voice cracked with anguish but despite that he still recognised her voice. Also, he wasn’t surprised to hear from her. A week earlier, he had been informed that his ex-wife had died in a car accident on Sheikh Zayed Road. She had only been married a month…
‘Richard. She’s dead! My Natasha’s dead. She’s all I had - and you killed her! You took my only treasure, my baby, and you killed her. She didn’t die in the accident Richard, she died when she left you. She went out there because of you!’
The voice succumbed to the tears…
‘Mrs. Wilson. I’m so sorry for your loss,’ he began.
The sobbing continued. ‘How could you be sorry, Richard. You don’t know what that means. You don’t know how it feels - you’re heartless...Everything you touch…dies.’
The phone went dead.
Richard never heard from his mother-in-law again.
His stormy grey eyes slowly took in the intricate details of his wooden desktop. He followed the swirls and grains of its markings and the slight indentations where his pen had punctured the soft exterior. His phone was securely placed in the top drawer.
‘It was the best place for it,’ he sniffed, ‘definitely the best place for it…’