Paul gave her a glance, one that questioned why he needed to apologise for her walking out on him.
She smiled sweetly at him and carried on. ‘Me for my mood swings ... and you for being a bumptious, know-it-all prat.’
The Victoria had its usual collection of shirkers and misfits lounging about, and Garside was busy preening its claws on a stool by the bar. They were sitting side by side at a corner table, away from the clickety-clack of the domino-playing foursome, with Paul’s pile of printouts scattered across the table top.
Jackie brushed her hand across them, not yet focused on his problems. Her mind was in turmoil, but she needed to explain. She bent close. ‘Brains ... okay, my shrink ... changed my contraceptive pill, and recommended a high potassium diet ... avocadoes and bananas. Something to do with ... well I’m not really sure ... but I feel a lot more balanced.’ She giggled. ‘I even listen to Frank Sinatra, now.’
Paul pretended to be horrified. ‘Wrinkly-music ... bananas ...?’ Tears of laughter. ‘No wonder you need a shrink. You’re off your bloody rocker.’
She punched his arm. ‘Not me, it’s the rest of the bastards who are the crazies.’
‘Okay, I’m sorry for being a stupid prat ... and I’m all ears. What about Carol?’
Jackie fumbled into her pocket and pulled out the note and showed it.
He frowned. ‘Carol was going home. Serena needed her ... you don’t think...’
Oh fuck. I’ve missed the obvious.
She leapt up. ‘Come on, we’ve got to get in her flat.’
The door latch panel splintered on the third kick. Paul shouldered the door open and hurried inside, Jackie following at his heels.
Carol was lying on the floor in the bathroom, a phial of sleeping pills by her side.
Jackie bent down, felt for a pulse; looked up. ‘She’s unconscious but still breathing. Ambulance, quick.’
The next few hours at Cheltenham hospital was scary; emergency treatment; stomach pump, oxygen and a saline drip to stabilise Carol – with Jackie at her bedside, watching Carol’s heart monitor bleeping steadily.
The doctor was optimistic. ‘It takes a lot of these pills to actually kill someone ... especially a healthy teenager. I think she dozed off before she could consume a deadly dose.’
Jackie still felt guilty. If she hadn’t been exhausted last night, if she hadn’t been preoccupied with denouncing Hillock, if only...
His voice interrupted her thoughts. Paul had returned. ‘How is she?’
She looked up: he was offering her a cup of coffee. She took it, pointed to the heart monitor. ‘Stable, but still in a coma.’
‘I called Harmony Estate maintenance. It didn’t come as a surprise; they’re used to fixing busted doors.’
Jackie sipped the coffee. ‘Paul, if it wasn’t for you, she could have died. I owe you.’
He looked a bit sheepish. ‘Well I was hoping...’
She looked at her watch. ‘Still want to check out the Seagulls?’
He nodded. ‘But if it’s a bad time...?’
She interrupted; stood up. ‘The doctor’s got my number. We can take a look at Carol’s flat while we’re at it and make sure it’s secure.’
As long as some tea leaf hasn’t trashed the place.