Friday, 3 August 2012

Predisposed To Murder - Chapter Thirty-Seven


“If anything happens to Sadie or the baby, I’ll never forgive myself,” said Carol as she rose from her chair and proceeded for the umpteenth time to pace anxiously to and fro
“You mustn’t blame yourself,” Winter told her firmly. “If anyone’s to blame, it’s me for not pre-empting what the crazy little bitch would do next.”
“You weren’t to know. Besides, but for your presence of mind to chase after that crazy little bitch, she’d have got clean away. The rest of us were near hysterical, for heaven’s sake. Poor Liam was in a state over Sadie and I wasn’t any help either. I wasn’t really taking anything in, Freddy, not any of it, not Nina semi-conscious in that damn bath or Sadie falling down the bloody stairs. But you came through for us, solid and dependable as always.”
Winter frowned, unsure whether he liked being described as solid and dependable, it sounded too boring for words. “How is Nina?”
“She’s fine as far as I can tell. Honestly, Freddy, the woman’s incredible.”
“She certainly came up trumps offering to help look after the pub while we make this dump a second home.” Winter agreed.
Carol examined the Rolex on her wrist, a wedding present from her late husband, Liam’s father. “Do you realize we’ve been hanging around this bloody hospital for nearly fourteen hours?”
“The locals won’t know what’s hit ’em.” Winter chuckled and wondered how long it would take the press to get wind of the fact that Nina Fox, star of April Showers, had turned barmaid. “I have to confess I didn’t think she had it in her. Nearly gets herself murdered, hasn’t had any more sleep than the rest of us, and now she’s pulling pints!” But Carol was preoccupied with her own thoughts and made no reply.
They were in a comfortable but oppressive room at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, anxiously waiting for news of Sadie. Liam had been allowed to stay with his partner although she was in a bad way.
“Suppose poor Sadie has a miscarriage and loses the baby? How can I live with myself when I hated the idea of her having it in the first place?  Oh, Freddy, I feel so wretched.” Carol burst into tears and refused to be comforted.
The door opened and Liam entered. He looked pale and drawn, but managed a weak smile. “She’s going to be okay, the baby too.”
“That’s fantastic news,” Winter, not a tactile person by nature, flung both arms around the young man and gathered him in a bear hug.
“I’m so pleased,” said Carol, aware the words sounded trite, but they were the first that came into her head.
“Are you, Mum?” Liam gave her a long, reproachful look. “You haven’t been very enthusiastic about the baby so far.”
“That’s not true,” Carol was quick to deny it, but again the words rang more than a trifle hollow.
“Your mother has been desperately afraid for Sadie and the baby,” Winter told him.
Liam appeared less than convinced. “I must go back now, she needs me. I just thought you’d want to know…”
“Of course we do,” Winter acknowledged with a reassuring smile. “We were so worried… both of us,” he emphasized, and Liam threw him a grateful if fragile smile. “Can we see her, just for a minute or so?”
“Sure, but not just yet. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He left the room, sparing his mother a brief, accusing glance before closing the door behind him.
“You could have sounded as if you meant it!” Winter wasted no time rounding on Carol as soon as Liam had disappeared. “You’re the one who should have been giving the lad a big hug...Yes, you, his mother, and not some old grizzly bear like me. What’s the matter with you, woman? Get a grip, for heaven’s sake.”
“But I’m not his mother am I?” she groaned, close to tears.
“Of course you’re his mother,” Winter growled. “You always have been, and always will be as far as the pair of you are concerned or anyone else for that matter. So you and Sean committed perjury with the birth certificate, so what? It was in a good cause. Worse things happen at sea, for crying out loud. You don’t have to look any farther than Pip Sparrow to get a sense of proportion. Huh! I’ll say not.”
“What will happen to her?” Carol gladly changed the subject.
Winter spread his hands in a gesture of mock despair. “Not a lot, most likely. Take a young girl who’s, been through the mill, father in prison, still at school, pressure of revising for exams…you don’t have to know much about the law to add up that little lot and arrive at diminished responsibility.”
“But she won’t get away with it, surely?” Carol was incredulous.
“As near as…give or take a token stretch in some open prison.”
“Broadmoor would be more appropriate, surely?”
“I agree.”
“But she told Nina…” Carol was so angry that she could hardly speak, “She has killed at least four people.”
“Hearsay,” declared Winter, spreading his hands wide and giving a shrug that spoke volumes. “Where’s your evidence? We have to face it, Carol.. Our Pip has a remarkable talent for murder.”
“But how on earth could she have thought she’d get away with killing Sadie?”
“There but for Stanley…” Winter reminded her, “and I must say I’ve been having second thoughts about that dog lately. Not that I consider myself a doggie person, you understand, but I suppose there are exceptions to every rule.”
Carol managed a wan smile. “You don’t fool me one bit, Freddy Winter, you’re very fond of Stanley.”
Winter replied with a noncommittal shrug before continuing, “She wouldn’t have got clean away with killing Sadie, of course.” There would have been marks on Nina’s shoulders, especially so soon after the event. No self-respecting pathologist would have missed that. Nina’s no piece of cake, unlike poor Ruth Manners,” he pointed out, referring to a much older victim in a previous case who had been killed in similar circumstances.
“Of course,” he went on, “the girl’s state of mind is questionable to say the least. Mind you, it’s my opinion she’s perfectly sane. Our Pip knew exactly what she was doing. I have no doubts whatsoever on that score. Oh, yes, she knew what she was doing alright, and enjoyed every minute. As for what the law might have to say on the subject, well, that’s something else.” He paused. “One thing’s for sure. Pip Sparrow needs to be kept out of harm’s way for a very long time, for everyone’s sake including her own.” He paused again and sighed. “You know, Carol, she took some incredible risks. Who knows? Maybe, subconsciously, the poor kid wanted to get caught...” whereupon, a flood of contradictory theories proceeded to grapple with that possibility for several minutes, but without arriving at a verdict.  Winter shook his mane of steely hair as if to clear his head. “Now, about you and Liam…”
“Not now, Freddy, I’m not in the mood.”
“Yes, now, Carol. The months ahead aren’t going to be easy for Liam and Sadie. God knows how long she’ll be stuck in here, maybe until the baby is born. Liam needs us to be strong for him. More than anything else, he needs his mother’s love. You love him and he loves you, very much. How does that Beatles song go? All you need is love, love, love is all you need…” he sang with an excess of enthusiasm but so out of tune that Carol couldn’t help laughing. “That’s better,” he commented approvingly. “You’re so beautiful when you smile and drop dead gorgeous when you laugh…”
“What’s this, compliments? Be careful, Freddy, I might start thinking you care.”
“You know I do.”  Somewhere beneath the banter, each acknowledged what neither could quite put into words. This time she did not avoid the comfort of his arms around her and returned his embrace.
Liam returned sooner than expected to tell them that Sadie was awake but very tired and asking to see them. It crossed his mind that Fred and his mother looked more comfortable with each other than he had seen them in ages. He was pleased. He liked Fred.
“Go on ahead, Freddy, I want a quick word with Liam,”
“She’s not in a ward, Fred. Turn right outside the door here, take a first left then a right at the double doors and it’s room number nine, on the right, about half way down the corridor on the right.”
 Carol was already pushing Winter out of the door, but he managed to turn his head and give her a warning look. Liam intercepted it and groaned inwardly. It had been a long night and the last thing he needed right now was aggravation from his mother. He loved her dearly, but she was inclined to lecture him on how he should live his life from time to time...
Winter closed the door behind him, resisting an impulse to peer through the window at mother and son to reassure himself all was well. Stifling a yawn, he struggled to recall Liam’s directions to Sadie’s room.
“Yes, mum, what is it now?” Liam glared at his mother as if daring her to get up on any high horse.
Carol hesitated. “There’s something I need to tell you,” she began.
“Can’t it wait?”
“No, it can’t”
“Okay, so let’s have it. What do I need to know?”
She couldn’t help thinking how he looked so much like his father and how a guardian angel must have been looking after her for him not to resemble Siobhan Duffy in the least. “I know I’ve been a pain lately but…”
“I love you so much.” She burst into tears and fell into his arms.
Liam held his mother close. This was so unlike her. It must be hormones. All the same, he was as pleased as Punch and sensed the coming months, although tough, would get a lot easier now.
“It’s very nice of you both to come and see me,” Max Cutler told Mary Pike and Billy, “I appreciate it, I really do. I don’t get many visitors...apart from my mother,” he felt obliged to add.
“We have a little surprise for you,” said Mary Pike, “Well, Billy has.”
Billy took a paperback book from his pocket and handed it to Max.
“Why, a book of crosswords!” Max was genuinely moved as well as pleased, “Just what the doctor ordered. It gets so boring in here, I can’t tell you. Thanks, Billy. Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” said Billy grinning from ear to ear.
“I love crosswords,” Max began before it dawned on him that Billy had spoken. “Billy, you’re talking! That’s fantastic!” He grabbed the boy’s hand in both of his, shook it until his chest started to hurt and he was forced to lie back on the pillows, still expressing delight.”
“It was just after that detective fellow Fred Winter called,” said Mary Pike choking back tears, “Billy came into the kitchen and I said I’d made a quiche for tea and he said he’d much prefer a Chinese take-away. I started to get cross until I realized what he’d said. Those were the first words I’ve heard him say since…”
“The fire, mum,” said Billy, “and it’s okay, really. It doesn’t scare me to think about it any more.”
“Whatever Mr Winter said, it has certainly worked a miracle where you’re concerned.” Mary Pike regarded her son with undisguised pride. Billy shrugged. “He doesn’t say a lot, but it’s only early days yet,” she told Max over Billy’s shoulder.
Max Cutler nodded, thinking about his mother and Nina Fox. The one he was stuck with while the other...
He was desperate to see Nina if only to explain things. Could they start over again, he wondered?  He hadn’t believed so until he received a letter. He had recognized Nina’s handwriting on the envelope at once, but couldn’t bring himself to open it. He sighed. There would always be Nathan Sparrow’s ghost haunting their every move not to mention Pip’s. But it was, as Billy’s mother had so rightly said, still early days yet.
He cheered up, looked from mother to son and couldn’t help reflecting, with growing optimism, how recent events had proven much could change in even a short period of time. Where there’s life, there’s hope, he told himself, matching Billy’s expression grin for grin.
In this spirit of newly discovered positive thinking, Max took an envelope from a cupboard by the bed where it had lain since his mother had brought it, and grudgingly handed it to him. Annie Cutler hadn’t minced her words, making no attempt to conceal either her anger at his receiving it or annoyance at his adamantly refusing to read it in her presence. “Hasn’t that woman done enough harm? Oh, but what am I saying?  Her sort never knows when best to leave well alone. Nor do you if that soppy look on your face is anything to go by!”
 Now, he opened it and read:
Dear Max,
               I thought you should know that Ray was HIV positive. As I have been recently tested positive as well that means you must be too since I could only have caught it from you. Will you tell Pip or shall I?
Nina x        
The smile on his lips died.
“That’s wonderful news, Winter exclaimed, “and, yes, I’ll be sure to pass it on... Goodbye for now, and thanks for calling.” He replaced the receiver and turned to Carol. “That was Mary Pike on the phone. Billy has started talking again. Apparently, he began chatting away non-stop shortly after I left.”
“Don’t tell me,” Carol groaned, “let me guess. Now it’s Freddy Winter, miracle worker!”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic. Maybe I helped clear the boy’s mind, and maybe not. Whatever, he’s a nice kid and I, for one, am thrilled he’s talking again.”
“So am I,” said Carol, “of course I am.” A thought occurred to her, causing her to sit bolt upright in her chair. “Will he testify against Pip, do you think?”
Winter spread his hands in the familiar gesture. “Maybe, but it’s early days yet. More to the point, would anyone believe him?”
“We do,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but would a jury?  I’ll have a word with Lovell, but don’t get your hopes up. I fear it won’t be too many years before our Pip is back in the bosom of society leading an apparently healthy, normal life with no one any more the wiser than they were before.”
“Heaven help society,” muttered Carol.
“Hear, hear,” Winter agreed, sat down opposite her and grabbed a newspaper.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” she warned him, “since you’re driving me back to Camden tonight, although why Liam wouldn’t let me stay and help him run the pub is beyond me.”
“You do have a job,” he reminded her.
“Only part-time though. I could give it up and find another easily enough.”
“Ah, yes. But would you ever find another boss who will let you twist him around your little finger whenever you want to take time off?” Winter put it to her, correctly interpreting her silence as an acknowledgement that his point had struck home.
“I’m bored, Freddy,” Carol declared sulkily. “Helping out at The Green Man would have been fun.”
“Liam is capable enough. He doesn’t need his mother getting under his feet all the time,” Winter felt obliged to say, “but if you’re bored…” His voice tailed off indecisively.
“Yes?” she prompted.
“Well, you could always move in here with me.”
“Why not…? We make a good team, you and I. And there’s plenty to do. The garden, for a start, it’s a jungle out there. You wouldn’t have time to get bored.” Carol promptly seized a cushion and flung it at him. “Hey, watch it!” he shouted, laughing.
“If you think I’m moving in with you just to sort out your bloody garden, Freddy Winter, you can think again.”
We do make a good team though,” he repeated, “and, well, we love each other, sort of, don’t we?” Carol’s expression instantly softened. “Stanley would adore it if you moved in, wouldn’t you boy?” The little white dog wagged its tail, cocked its head on one side and gave Winter a disparaging look as if to say, you’ll have to do better than this.
Winter grinned sheepishly at Carol. “I do love you, you know.”
“I know,” was all Carol quite trusted herself to say.
“So you will?”
“I’ll give it some thought,” she promised.
“You’re supposed to say you love me too,” Winter growled.
“I need to give that some thought too,” she retorted, but not unkindly.
“Yes, well, you know what thought did…” Winter muttered while pretending to scour the headlines, “it killed off more damn cats than curiosity.”
Carol got up and went to sit on the arm of his chair. Stanley leapt forward and sprang into her lap so that she almost lost her balance. Laughing aloud, she scooped up the little dog and stroked its head with one hand. Violet eyes met brown. “Another fine mess you’ve got me into, Stanley,” she giggled. The dog licked her face and wagged its tail.
Knowing full well he’d pretend that he hated it, as he always did, Carol ran the fingers of her free hand affectionately though Winter’s stubborn shock of grey-white hair.
Winter frowned, the more so for the way his heart skipped a beat, laid the newspaper aside and tilted his head back for a better view of the violet eyes smiling down at him. He felt his lips twitch and failed to prevent them forming a soppy grin.
Stanley barked approvingly.

The End

Author’s Note: Apologies for the fact that Google has messed with the font for various chapters. The book is not available in print form, but I hope to upload an e-edition later this year. A new serial will start on Monday 1st October. (I will post a synopsis tomorrow.)