Helga looked up at them. ‘Preliminary findings so far ... apart from slight marks on the neck, there’s no evidence of foul play.’
Hillock was quick to interject. ‘For the benefit of DS Steel, can you be more precise?’
Helga stared at him. ‘What part of “no evidence of foul play” don’t you understand?’
He stared back. ‘Oh, I understand it quite well. Seems DS Steel knows better than you.’
Helga swivelled, frowned. ‘Jackie ...?’
And that’s where it became a farce. Jackie had no answer; thought an accident would be impossible given the circumstances. She shook her head. ‘Helga, when I arrived, Georgina was under the water, her daughter screaming on the bath mat. She didn’t drown herself.’
Hillock pointed a finger. ‘That’s your story. When we arrived, her daughter was fast asleep in her cot.’
Jackie pointed a finger back. ‘What about the kitchen window catch?’
He seemed to be enjoying this. ‘You trampled all over the evidence outside and admitted breaking in. Who’s to say you didn’t tamper with it?’
‘That’s bullshit, and you know it.’
He sneered. ‘Actually, I don’t. But I’m keeping an open mind; something you find very difficult.’
Helga stepped in; seemed to be on Jackie’s side. ‘DCI Hillock ... Jackie ... I will be carrying out further tests including microscopic examination of the head and neck tissue. But that will take time; I just hope it’s time not wasted.’
Hillock started to protest, but Helga held up a hand. ‘For your information DCI Hillock, I’m the one who makes the decisions on this PM. That’s something else you need to understand.’
Jackie watched Hillock’s neck turn red. His resentment was obvious, but he switched his attention back to her. ‘DS Steel, we will continue our discussion back at my office.’
My office? Another bollocking. Well, bring it all on.
She looked at her watch, kept a straight face. ‘Straight after lunch ... low blood sugar.’
He frowned, but seemed to accept it, perhaps he welcomed the break. Maybe that’s why he had insisted on using separate cars.
Come to think of it, he was often “missing” at lunchtime. Maybe…
‘Two o’clock, on the dot.’
When Hillock stomped out of the mortuary, she asked Helga about the four new AIDS victims.
Helga looked around; seemed satisfied no one was listening. ‘Our lab AIDS tests include blood samples from some adults admitted to the hospital.’ She put a finger to her lips. ‘It’s a precaution; our new forms make it quite clear, with the patient’s consent, the doctor could test for viral infection.’
Helga smiled. ‘Correct. We don’t mention AIDS specifically.’
‘Anyone I should know about?’
‘There’s a married couple ... one’s been cheating, is my guess ... or maybe both. Not on your radar until one kills the other. There was a long distance lorry driver, but he discharged himself, so I have no idea where he is. Maybe the registrar could give you his name.’
Jackie groaned. ‘Just what we need. Infection could be anywhere by now.’
Helga nodded. ‘The other man is in a private wing. Winterbotham, I think.’
Jackie caught herself from shouting. ‘Winterbotham? Dixon?’
Helga frowned. ‘All we get is the surname.’
Jackie hoisted her bag over her shoulder, said a hurried farewell and thanks, and headed for reception; ID in hand to facilitate breaching the red tape barrier.
Dixon Winterbotham had been admitted a few days ago. He was in a private room on Knightsbridge Ward. The receptionist was polite, but firm when Jackie asked for more details. ‘You’ll need to speak to the ward sister.’
So much for the ID.
At least first base was achieved. Jackie looked at her watch. It would have to wait. Angers was priority, and the Cheltenham Medical Clinic was ten minutes walk away; double that if the snow hadn’t been swept off the pavements.
She needed some fresh air, and she was fortunate. Road sweepers were out in force; no doubt the Cheltenham image plus moneyed influence played a key factor. She smelt enticing aromas as she passed the few up-market bistros littered around Montpellier. No time for pasta or tapas, that day.
The Clinic modelled itself on the private Nuffield hospital; providing recuperation facilities following surgery. The reception area resembled a healthy version of a gift shop; bouquets of assorted flowers, a rack of “get well” cards, bowls of fruit, energizing drinks - no time to browse before she was welcomed by the duty consultant.
‘Mr. Angers gets so few visitors. I’m sure seeing you would cheer him up and quicken his recovery.’
She didn’t like the sound of that. ‘I hope nothing went wrong?’
The consultant started to become animated. ‘Good god, no. It’s just that ... well Orson seems depressed.’ He shrugged, as if it was commonplace, and took Jackie by the arm, walking her down the corridor. ‘I’m sure it’s just a reaction to surgery...’
The consultant left her at the door – a sign, Orson Angers, attached. She opened it. Angers looked up hopefully, as soon as he saw her enter.
‘Got any chocolate?’
When Jackie shook her head, he sank back down on his pillow and closed his eyes.
She walked in and looked around his spacious room; with an ensuite bathroom. It had a minimalist look about it. Sitting on the sideboard, under the window that looked out over a snow-bound bowling green, was a vase of fresh flowers. Propped up against it was a card.
Shit. I forgot. I should have brought something. Reception had most things.
She reached over and picked it up. On the front was a picture of a voluptuous nurse holding a huge hypodermic needle. She opened the card. Inside was a naked man with his buttocks in the air. The nurse was saying, “Just a teeny prick ...”
In neat handwriting, across the page was a message. “To Orson – you will always be a part of me – with all my love – your Kid (ney) Sis. XXX”
She replaced the card and sat down on a chair by his bed. Apart from not shaving, his hair was matted, and his pale blue pyjama top with a button missing was crumpled; he didn’t exactly look like he was fit for anything, let alone work.
He opened an eye. His mouth opened. ‘Is it dinner time, yet?’
‘Err, guv ... didn’t you have lunch?’
He opened the other eye, his voice rose. ‘Lunch. Do me a favour. Some bloody vanilla milk-shake full of vitamins ... or so they tell me.’ He groaned. ‘Allegedly, apart from an allergic reaction to surgery, I suffered a blood clot. Told me my weight could have had something to do with it.’ He pulled a face. ‘So now I’m on a strict diet of rat poison until everything settles down.’
He pointed at a glossy booklet on his bedside cabinet next to the phone. ‘Warfarin ... it thins the blood. Each morning before my microscopic breakfast, I take one pink one and one brown one or, if I feel down in the dumps, two blue ones.’
Maybe this wasn’t a good time...
She changed the subject. ‘How’s your kid ... er ... um ... sister?’
He snorted. ‘Sophie ... she’s two doors down if you want to say hello ... is like a new person. Full of beans. Bloody typical, I’m the one who’s suffering.’
‘Does it hurt?’
He screwed up his face when he moved to get more comfortable. ‘You taking the piss? I wouldn’t do it again ...’
Jackie giggled. Couldn’t help herself. ‘Guv ... that’s a classic.’
He winced. ‘Humph ... well ... you know what I mean.’
‘How long will you be in here?’
He looked like he was going to shrug, but thought the better of it. ‘That’s just it. I’m stuck here for a few more days ... then I’ll be at home until they sign me off.’
‘If you like, I could come back another time ...’
He started to move a hand, but stopped. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Jackie ... I am pleased to see you ... anyone, really ...’ He slumped back down. ‘No one else has made the effort.’
Feeling sorry for himself. No one loves him.
She nodded. ‘Think positive, guv. That’s what you’re always telling me.’
If it helps ...
This time he did move his arm; rubbed a hairy paw across his bristles. ‘You’re right. I need to get a grip.’
Jackie glanced at her watch. ‘Look guv, I’ve got to go. DCI Hillock is on my back.’
His eyes widened, maybe it was a glint of surprise. He wasn’t in physical shape, but his mind was sharp; he could smell the undercurrent. ‘Something bothering you?’
Saving my career.
That’s when it all came out.
He listened; didn’t interject, didn’t get uptight, just lay there and absorbed it all. When she finished, he seemed to think a while. Then he sat up, winced a little with the effort and pointed to the phone. ‘When you get back, tell Hillock I want to talk to him.’
It sounded like a directive.
Now I’ve gone and done it.