Where was he? Over an hour late, no replies to texts. After her cousin had left she had spent the day working, then getting ready and then cooking something special for him, even getting out a bottle of wine, Chapelle-Chambertin 1998, good producer. They had things to discuss.
Ten o’clock now. No contact. It’s not fair, he promised, I have my pride, my self-respect, after all I’ve done for him. Off to bed, early start tomorrow, what else is there now?
Don’t leap to conclusions, something must have come up.
He would have sent me a message if it had.
TUESDAY AFTER EASTER
Nine o’clock, back at my desk after the morning meeting, there’s a message on my personal number plus others on my work phone.
It must be him, to apologise, explain, promise to make amends. No, it isn’t, it’s his PA, Elaine, asking me to call her on a mobile number, echo-y institutional sounds in the background. Concern, alarm, even he wouldn’t get his PA to call to make his excuses. Her call is picked up straightaway: real terror now.
“Helena, we spoke once befor;, I’m your fiancé’s PA, do you remember?”
She let that pass, tell me woman.
“I’m at St Thomas’, the hospital, a special ward, he’s here, he’s…” sobbing now, she’s struggling to get the words out to her, “… he’s been shot, last night at home, badly… Didn’t you see the news?”
No, no, never hear it in the morning in case it spoils my day.
“He’s unconscious; he’s been in theatre most of the night. I’ve been here since eight but couldn’t get hold of you. Do you want to come over?”
She’s weeping hard now, poor Elaine; she seems really fond of him.
“I’ll get them to let you in, there’s armed police everywhere, he wasn’t the only one either, two killed at home, one wounded, one got away, all in the… service… you know what I mean?”
“I’ll be straight over.”
She’s racing for the door, coat and bag in hand, ignoring those staring at her from their work-stations. Numb, self-reproaching, no, self-loathing for her earlier thoughts, her selfishness. Stop that, that won’t help him. What if I lose him, just as I was starting to? God, I’ll do anything, give anything, please? Her assistant calls: what’s the problem, can she do anything?
Damn, this taxi’s taking forever in the morning traffic, cancel everything, family crisis, I’ll be in touch.
Twenty-five minutes from her West End office to St Thomas’, it’s a joke, what’s that clown of a mayor playing at?
Three armed policemen, flak jackets, machineguns, the works, stand in the hospital foyer. They check her ID and wave her through, top floor, at the back, a special secure ward. Ten-minute walk, she makes it in four, shoes abandoned in the drive for speed, three more policemen, one unarmed, two armed similarly to the three in the foyer, she’s checked again and ushered through.
Last corridor, turn, another two heavily armed policemen, a uniformed Sergeant, and a fifty something little woman, eyes red-rimmed.
She nods, they check her again and Elaine leads her in. Small ward with barred and blinded windows, two armed police at the far end by a locked fire escape, two nurses, two drawn sets of curtains hiding the beds and their occupants, the rest unoccupied. She is taken to the far one; it’s him, white as a sheet, sleeping, unnaturally still, one leg in traction, drips in his right forearm, large dressings around his left shoulder and lower left leg.
She sits on the chair beside his bed, her heart hardly beating, blinking back the tears. “I’m sorry Elaine, could you bear to tell me what happened please, how he is?”
His PA’s tears were increasing to sobs, almost drawing a similar response from her, despite her best efforts. The older woman almost looked delirious with misery, incoherent.
“I’m sorry I said you were his fiancé, I had to, they wouldn’t have let you in otherwise. It was just after seven last night, it seemed he was just unlocking the front door and a gang of four Muslim fanatics,” she spat the words out, “jumped him. There was a gunfight, he must have killed two at the front door, but was shot and wounded himself, it appears. He was crawling to his flat when they blew in the front door and chased him up the stairs; he only had that little pistol while they had machineguns. He didn’t stand a chance; he shot one on the stairs by his flat, but the remaining terrorist shot him again.”
Comfort her if only to get the rest. She put her arms around the distraught woman, she’s devoted to the point of love; how often does he have that effect on people?
“So how did he survive?”
“The man in the flat below, he must have been so brave, he came out and went up the stairs with some sort of shotgun and shot the last terrorist in the back of the head before he could pull the trigger. He had already called an ambulance, and he and his wife came back and tried to slow the bleeding with towels and string as a tourniquet until they arrived. The doctor here said they probably saved his life by that… I mean, without the shooting as well.”
“Thank you. What else does the doctor say?”
She didn’t have the nerve to use ‘about his chances.’
“Too early to tell, so much blood loss, tissue damage, leg bone shattered, but it’s the blood loss and trauma they’re worried about. He was having transfusions all night until they could stop the bleeding and repair the worst of the damage. Don’t you want to hear about the others?”
She really didn’t care right now, but she could see Elaine was determined to finish it. She smiled a yes.
“There were four other attacks, all similar. One man got inside his home and held them off, another, a woman, was shot on her doorstep, as was another man, the woman in the bed there was wounded trying to drive away when she saw them, a bullet in the back, too early to say if….” No one would mention those words in here, at least not yet.
“How did they know who he was, they all were, where they lived? Someone must have betrayed them.”
Elaine dissolved again.
“That’s the worst part, there can’t be any other answer, they were all senior department heads at least, he’s even more…” She stopped herself in time. “That sort of information is highly secret, so it must be someone very senior. They’ve called a massive investigation, but you know…” She looked at her helplessly. “There’s a COBRA meeting going on now.”
Helena turned back to him, brushing his white face and leaned forward to kiss his forehead so gently. She whispered something so low that Elaine couldn’t catch it, then turned back to Elaine.
“Can I stay?”
The woman went crimson with embarrassment, “I’m sorry, not for long, other service people will be visiting and they will be locking down this entire wing. I’ll stay and make sure they let you in at the end of the day, I’ll phone you with any news from the doctors, I promise.”
She kissed his nose this time, hugged Elaine, took one last look back.
“Can you send me the contact details of the couple who saved him; I’ve a debt to repay, right now?”
“I’m not sure, well it can’t hurt, but don’t tell anyone, please?”
“Of course not,” she said and hurried out.
She headed out for the entrance, better find my shoes. They were at reception, someone had handed them in, apparently it happened all the time. Just as she got into her taxi, she didn’t know where to go, a text arrived from Elaine, the man’s work address and name, a clearing banker in the City, well scrub what I said about drones.
Twelve minutes later she arrived outside his office, calmer now she entered the lobby, asking for him by name; they asked who she was, she told them and gave her company name for good measure. Three minutes he was in front of her, wondering what this high powered hedgy wanted with a middle ranking retail banker. He didn’t look the macho type, but not a wimp, just a late thirties middle manager, grey suit and tie, short hair. She motioned to him to sit by her in the lobby.
Before he had chance to enquire if she had made a mistake seeking him out, “Are you David Holloway?”
“Then why are you at work after last evening? Where’s your wife, your family? Do you have children? Are you completely insane?”
He could see she was forcing a smile.
“They’re in protective custody, but I have a big deal on and the police said it would be ok.”
So, she was wrong, there was a macho streak in there somewhere, it’s the culture still in these older institutions.
“Well, I just want to thank you and your wife for saving the life someone very dear to me. I can’t ever hope to repay you, but let me try a little at least. I assume you won’t be able to live at home again, they’ll probably change your identity as well.” He hadn’t thought of that she could see. “How big’s your mortgage?”
“Why d’you want to know?”
“Just tell me please, I’m not in the mood.”
“Just under £300k.”
He was blushing now.
“Fine, I am writing you a personal cheque for that sum now. Please pay it in immediately, I’ll call my bank. I’ll also transfer another £200k later so you can move and not worry about the cost. I’m also going to call your chief executive and say how indebted I am to you and your wife, and how it is a tribute to his bank that they employ such people.”
She knew the effect that could have on his career.
“Money is no thanks, but it’s all I can do for now. Why did you have a gun with you anyway?”
“Well I shoot game,” he blushed again, “and it had just come back from its end-of-season service. Two days earlier and I wouldn’t have had it. Just didn’t think really, didn’t want to wait for them to come after us, instinct I suppose. My wife’s furious, but this will help. Thanks, I don’t know what to say…”
“Nothing; it’s for me that words and money are not enough.”
She had to get out of there before the tears started to flow. What would it do to her reputation?
© 1642again 2018