Authors: Stacey Kathleen
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers
Oliver called Sophie and left messages, using the excuse of her cut to check up on her, she had not rung back. The corridors of the hospital were quiet, Oliver stood looking out the window in the direction where Sophie had ran into him, the pavement darkened and slick from the mist of rain that fell all day. Drops hung from the bare branches of the trees and people walked hidden with their umbrellas, colourful in contrast with the drab. The day had started warmer and brighter but by the time he had come to the hospital it had turned gloomy, like his mood.
A gasp came from behind him. Liam’s mother was hiccupping from hours of crying. The twelve year old’s body gave up the fight for life; his parent’s hopes of his waking had dissipated a week ago when Oliver told them there was no more brain activity. It was the machines doing all the work now. His mother wept, never leaving his side until she absolutely had to, sending the father on errands and he just obeyed her like a zombie.
They were struggling with the decision to take him off life support. When asked, Oliver promised to do it for them if that’s what they chose but the decision was a long time coming. He almost wished Liam would go on his own so they could all be spared this moment.
Yet it was an honour that they trusted him to do it, his rapport with them strong. Any of the doctors or nurses could but they wanted him. Never had he been
to “pull the plug” and he never had to before when necessary so he lingered; trying not to be intrusive but available.
There was no free time since he had been on call for them. They were told to call him anytime; that he would be there as soon as possible and today was the day. It was his day off, he was going to go visit Sam and his family but this was more important and they understood the sacrifices made for his patients. They would still be there, alive and well.
Although death was common in this ward, it was completely different when it was a child. Adults he could handle their deaths, sometimes they made their decisions, they weren’t like children. Children never knew how not to hope, not to lose faith, not even when the inevitable loomed before their short lives.
They were not jaded yet by life’s ups and downs, happy times and desperate times. Perhaps it’s because they had just come from the other side and not of this world long enough to become scared but the parents, how they were tormented and Oliver was pained along with them.
They had decided to let him go tonight on his birthday. They were tearfully saying their goodbyes to Liam but he was already long gone and Oliver tried to remember that when the sadness choked him.
Both the parents looked at him. There was no need for them to speak and gently, peacefully, Oliver unhooked Liam’s feeds and the machines. The beeping sound slowed and when he flat lined, Oliver turned off the monitor, taking mental note of the time. Placing a hand on each parent’s shoulder, he squeezed in acknowledgment and walked out of the room, the sobbing inside louder.
“Did you do it,” Camille’s soft voice whispered, she cradled the crucifix in her hand, she knew what was going on, and she was Oliver’s right hand in the hospital. She was the faith equivalent to his science.
Oliver leaned against the wall a few feet from the door, listening to the sorrowful sounds of despair; he was used to those sounds. He was exhausted but patient. “Yes,” he was clearly upset; his face revealed sadness, the corners of his mouth turned down slightly, and his hand rested on his chest. He was dressed in a casual shirt in jeans only having come for the family inside, his weary face showed his dedication.
“It hurt the heart don’t it, when the young ones go. But he not suffering anymore,” she put a hand on his arm for comfort that didn’t come.
Camille closed her eyes and whispered a prayer.
“Yes, it does,” he waited, his head down, thinking a small prayer of his own then after she kissed the crucifix and crossed herself, “Aren’t you praying for Liam a little too late?”
“That boy with God now,” her Caribbean escaping through with her words, “he’s with the source of love. I’m praying for the parents cause only part of them died tonight and they are not fortunate as he is.”
“There’s nothing to be said to them, nothing can be done but what they asked me to do,” he shook his head, “I hope I never have to do that again for any child,” Oliver ran his hand through his hair, tousling it and shoving his hands in his pockets.
“You did the right thing. I pray for you too, Doctor,” she patted his arm. “No matter how you’re trained or taught nothing prepares you for it. Pronounce him and go home, get some rest. I know you’ve been waiting for them,” she nodded indicating the couple inside.
Truth was he wanted Sophie more than he wanted to go home. As bad as he felt he needed to check on her, he didn’t care if she did resist. Liam’s death pushed the need to see her to the forefront. After the gloom of this day, he needed some light. The balance had been shifted and he needed to find balance again by finding Sophie well.
“When they go, I’ll take care of the rest.” She squeezed his arm and he nodded in agreement and rounded the corner back into the room. The parents didn’t acknowledge his presence, heads down on the bed clutching the body that was their son.
Scribbling the time of death on the chart and as quiet as he could, he paused looking at the pale, freckled face of the boy. It was times like these that he was glad he wasn’t a parent but he also realized the twelve years they had with him were the most precious they would ever have.
In the lounge, Oliver put on his coat, his emotions weighing heavily on him when he heard her behind him. “I bet you liked turning that boy’s life off, didn’t you? Like a switch,” she snapped her fingers, “just like that.”
He turned to see Jacki, hands across her chest, the sarcastic smile exposing white teeth in contrast to her dark skin, her black eyes glaring at him. He squinted at her, “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. I
you like playing God.”
Oliver just relaxed, unclenching his fists that became an automatic reaction to her presence, not giving her the satisfaction of seeing him anymore angry than she already had. “He had no life anymore and we all have the potential to play God, even you.” The corners of his mouth turned down in disgust. “That’s what we’re here for aren’t we? To help people in their time of need, or have you forgotten that? If that’s not playing God,” he held his arms out to the side in gesture and let them drop again, “I don’t know what is.”
“But not like you, Doctor. You think you did him a favour, don’t you? How is it so easy for you?” The disdain left her face with a touch of sadness replacing it, he almost felt sorry for her. That pain was channelled and meant to be used as a weapon through her words. Her face suddenly seemed to age beyond her forty-four years.
“Easy? You think that was easy for me? Not that it’s any of your business but their son was gone way before I did what they
me to do. Now they can accept their loss and move on,” Oliver started to walk past her towards the door and stopped beside her, his face inches from hers, “It wasn’t
him.” he said, standing close, pointing back towards the room. “Sometimes, it’s better to let go what’s already gone. I did it for the living.”
“If you think what you did was kind, you’re mistaken,” the sarcastic smile faded into something grimmer than hatred or sadness, looking up at him, she replied, “That mother won’t ever move on, do you understand? No you can’t because you’re not a mother.”
“You mean because I’m not a parent?”
“No, a mother.” Oliver deducted that something similar happened to her but her disdain and rash behaviour towards him overshadowed any sympathy for her. “You have
to lose therefore you have
to lose except,” she paused hoping for a reaction but he just waited patiently for her to finish, his expression unchanging, infuriating her more, “your dirty… little… secret.” Her smugness irritated him more than the weight of her words.
“I don’t have any
little secrets, Jacki. To what are you referring to,” his agitation was apparent.
“Don’t deny that you have secrets.”
He smiled sideways, scoffing at her, “Everyone has secrets. I said I don’t have any dirty ones,” his smile faded and his voice stern, “That’s the truth and whatever your hatred stems from, you can direct it at someone else. You know nothing about me so don’t try to make out like you do.”
“Don’t I,” she squinted and her voice became low, “Are you sure?”
He studied her face wondering if she was brewing a lie to use against him later. “No, you don’t,” he could tell by her reaction that she was not happy by his lack of one. “You can’t threaten me when you have no leverage.” He decided to turn the tables and redirect her venom back on her, his face softening, “Who did you lose that has made you so bitter,” his voice changed to disdain emphasizing the last word.
“Like you I have no one to loose. And I don’t hate you.”
“Then what is your prob…,” she was chewing on something, something she didn’t want to admit and if it wasn’t hatred could it be, “you’re jealous, of me? Why?”
“Ha,” she exclaimed but he could tell he hit a nerve, “I’m not jealous of you. As you said, we can all play God.”
She was trying to be cryptic trying to make him afraid of her but she was terrible at this game and he didn’t want to play so he imparted a threat of his own with no fear of the wrath it might conjure. Despite her barking, she would never bite and he understood that was at least part of her problem.
“I will tell you this,” he began; she jutted her chin at him in defiance, his finger in her face, “if you don’t take your disdain and your resentment elsewhere…I will use my influence to get you off this ward or quite possibly out of this hospital. And unlike you, I
make that happen.”
“You’re hiding something,” she said, not ready to admit defeat but it was confirmation that she had nothing against him.
“And so are you.” He walked out the door before she could annoy him anymore.
Head low, Oliver strolled towards the alley, hands in his pockets, the cold drizzle stinging his face, Jacki already forgotten. He stood at the entrance, letting the rain fall on him without a care, pulling the collar of his coat around his neck. Watching the occupants, he imagined Sophie living like this, wet, and shivering in the rain with no one and nowhere to go. It did nothing but make his mood even darker. His imagination ran away with him. What if Sophie would let an infected wound kill her to keep from going to the hospital? Part of that fear would have been from his persistence in trying to get her to admit guilt. The decision was made, he turned on his heels and marched purposely towards the station, he was going to Waterloo this afternoon… now.
The train rocked, full of the late afternoon shift changers going home or going in. Oliver didn’t sit, not wanting to wet the seat. He should go home, have a drink, and get some sleep. He rubbed his chin; he hadn’t shaved since yesterday. If he was going to visit Sophie, the least he could do was be presentable but he didn’t care, he felt too wretched.
Standing in the shadows, Oliver looked up at the window of Sophie’s flat contemplating the wisdom of what he was about to do when he saw her come out of the building, the hood pulled over her head to shield her from the mist, and walk up the street towards Waterloo station. Relieved that she was well, he started to turn away disappointed but not surprised at the meaning, that she was avoiding him.
Oliver had expected that but he wanted to talk to her, he still couldn’t stop thinking about the part she played in the death of the man on the train. He felt no sympathy for that man but, in contrast, he felt pity for the sick child and especially his parents. It was even possible to feel it for Jacki if she didn’t have so much hatred directed towards him or indeed anyone.
With spring around the corner, the days lasted a little longer but dusk was darkening the day quicker, thanks to the rain, her dark clothes started to blend with it. His curiosity got the better of his judgment as he kept pace behind her. He studied the way she walked, tilting a little to the right; he could tell the wound on her side was bothersome. She walked steady and looked straight ahead. The train station was crowded with those leaving work making it easier for both of them to blend, it came into the station as they both reached the tunnel and he followed her on.
The destination was a complete mystery to him until she got off at Charing Cross station and walked purposefully towards Trafalgar Square. He kept pace behind her but at a distance, until that is, when he lost sight of her amongst the few tourists and locals scattering to find shelter across the courtyard. After she crossed the road without a thought to the sign indicating she should not, he had to wait for the slow moving double decker bus to pass first.
The café at the base of the National Gallery was full of people inside but she lingered at the entrance, under the awning waiting, skimming the area. Oliver stood behind one of the fountains, the flow minimal a few pigeons strutting about. He couldn’t bother her now that she was meeting someone. When he turned to walk away however, she fell into step behind a crowd going towards the gallery, not speaking to anyone in it so he continued following her, justifying in his head.
The bright green scarf was a beacon, showing Sophie the way following the man into the gallery. The museum was full of people, in her line of work this could either be a hindrance or an advantage. Every room had a security guard. The layout of the gallery gridded but turn after turn she was lost in it. She assessed the potential for being caught.
This was the first time she had been to the gallery. A painter herself, it was hard not to be just as distracted by the works of art as the masses, she had no idea the gallery was so big. People huddled in their groups pointing and discussing the paintings.
One very large painting caught her eye. Sophie was in awe by the size of it alone but the subject was just as distressing to her. She leaned to see the name of the painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. That explained the scene, the ladies in waiting distressed and a blindfolded Jane, seemingly calm and accepting of her fate, hand splayed showing the band of gold, the symbol of love and the source of her undoing.
Damn, she used to be focused, now was the first time she found distraction after distraction. You can come back anytime, she kept telling herself but she wanted to look. A large tour group came through blocking her way she saw it, the flash of green but she couldn’t tell if it was him or not. She moved through hastily before she lost him again. He was there looking at his watch and then he wasn’t. She pushed a man out of her way on her left, cringing from the pain. He exclaimed at her rudeness. There he was again. She just wanted to get this over with, so close.
She didn’t want to stalk this man anymore, it had to be now. She pushed a teenage girl out of her way, no longer hearing the protests of the people she shoved out of her way as she approached a group of people filing through a doorway and he was at the back of the crowd. Catch him between rooms, when the security guard looked the opposite way.
The cover of the needle slipped off easily at the flick of her thumb, she held it firmly and low. Behind him, she could smell his cologne and aftershave so heavy it almost made her sick and he walked through the doorway. Focusing on his hand, she jabbed him in the right hand with the needle when he held the door open for people to pass and dropped it back into her pocket. He jerked his hand forward in response when she strolled past him and beyond the crowd, hands in her pockets.
Done, she breathed a sigh of relief but looked around, every corridor lead to more rooms. ‘Way out’ above one door showed Sophie the way. The gallery was full of people. She could breathe again, take her time. Another painting caught her eye, one familiar from school, very famous. Degas, was the artist, how wonderful. It reminded her that she needed new brushes. With this payment she will splurge on the good ones.
Another painting, Nymph by a Stream, by Renoir, it was the print that looked out of place in Oliver’s flat. There was some speculation as to why he would choose that print. There was nothing particularly lovely about it, she thought. Unlike the black and white photos of the cityscapes that lined the other walls in his flat, it was an odd choice for a bachelor.
Before she knew it her pace slowed, minutes had passed and she needed to leave, weaving her way through crowds focused on the end. Finally the doors outside were in sight, keeping her head down, looking at the floor, the lights from outside reflected on the floor showing her the way.
“Sophie,” she thought she heard her name from somewhere under the crowded murmurs but she wasn’t sure so she kept walking until someone blocked her way, her heart dropping until she looked up and Oliver stood staring down at her. She hardly recognized him; he looked tired and the red tinted hair covered his jawline and upper lip, seeming tense until he saw her.
With a look of relief, he smiled and opened his mouth to speak when a disturbance rose from behind her, distracting him. A cry from a child for her father and a woman yelling for help caused a strange reaction in her. She closed her eyes and covered her ears.
Oliver looked past her at the commotion and then down at her face, revealing the guilt. He saw the feet of a collapsed man and people hovered around him buzzing, his wife on her knees. Oliver was familiar with this tune. An expression of surprise and disappointment flashed across his face and he looked at her incredulously, eyes wide, the crease between his brows deepened, and shaking his head disapprovingly. He stepped past her, she grabbed his arm.
“You can’t save him,” she whispered.
His eyebrows knitted together in a scowl, “That’s twice,” he said through clenched teeth pointing an accusing finger at her, “Don’t go anywhere.” And as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared to help the man Clive Bentley, formerly known as.
Ignoring his demand, she walked swiftly but steadily past the crowd gathered around the collapsed man, out of the corner of her eye she could see the downward motion of Oliver pressing on the man’s chest in futility. Panic started to set in as Sophie refrained from breaking into a run, walking would be less conspicuous and she dared not look back. Guards and gallery attendants ran past her, she walked through the lobby and out the door. Everything seemed to be in slow motion and the door seemed to get further away instead of closer, her heartbeat in her ears drowning out the commotion behind her.
What if he did go to the police what would he say? How much time would she have before they came knocking at her door. Being a doctor if he told them to do an autopsy would they? She didn’t know what the poison was, would it show? Could they prove that it was her?
The sirens of an ambulance came closer so she opted to take a cab instead of the tube, giving him the address
she was breathless, and her chest tight.
“Do you know what’s going on at the gallery?” The cabby asked but Sophie didn’t even notice he had spoken until she saw him staring at her in the rear-view mirror.
“Sorry. What?” She said, chewing nervously on her nails.
“I said do you know what the commotion is at the gallery?”
“Um, no,” the driver shrugged his shoulders at her short reply. It seemed like the longest cab ride she had ever taken as precious moments of her freedom slipped away.
She was berating herself now for telling Oliver the man couldn’t be saved. It was a confession and the look of pleasant surprise at seeing her to revelation and then disappointment when she told him made her feel defective. The realization that there was a tiny glimmer of a delicious feeling at his arrival now dissipated. Any potential they had was not going to be and she was more disappointed than she could have imagined. But survival was more important than the short time spent with Oliver.
Before they pulled up to the building she had her keys out. She threw the money on the seat with the cabbie and told him to keep the change. She got out of the car and ran upstairs. Every second now counted. Nervous and shaking she dropped her keys trying to unlock the door. She cursed her trembling fingers.
Once through the door, Sophie was in a fluster. Mind scattered, she tried to think of what to do, scared that any minute there will be a knock at the door or Scotland Yard breaking it down. Why wasn’t she prepared for this possibility? How safe did she think she really was? Her paintings couldn’t go with her but she grabbed her paints and brushes, and in doing so she knocked over one canvas and then another, they fell like dominoes.
In the bedroom, she pulled the suitcase out of the closet tossing it on the bed with one heave. The stitches strained on her skin. Damn, she swore under her breath, she had forgotten them. Arbitrarily throwing clothes in the suitcase, hangers flew to the floor. Grabbing her tooth brush and toiletries, she knocked the shower curtain off the hooks and it fell into the tub.
Opening the medicine cabinet, she skimmed over the contents, shifting items around but not taking anything, it wasn’t practical to take anything she could get later. When she slammed it shut, many items clattered into the sink where she left them.
A recurring sharp pain shot through her side and down her leg. Dropping to her knees and reaching under the bed to the hole in the box spring where she kept her emergency money, it was just out of reach. Wincing in pain she strained to grasp the bundle of small and large bills bound tightly together with plastic wrap. Struggling, with the sharpness of the sting she couldn’t stretch far enough. Half under the bed, on the floor, she was extending, when sweat broke out all over her body, finally, her fingertips barely reaching. The money was dislodged from the hollow where it had remained since she first purchased the flat and thudded to the floor. She lay there on the floor, catching her breath, unmoving, waiting for the pain to ease up some.
The shirt plastered to her side from the blood, the metallic smell of it making her woozy. Breathing was beginning to hurt. Creaking of the front door and soft footsteps distracted her, realizing in her rush to flee, she had forgotten to close and lock the front door. Now nothing stood between her and whoever came through it.
There was nowhere to run, the only thing she could do was face the intruder or authorities with lies that, for the moment, wouldn’t come. Oliver told her she was a bad liar; she really didn’t need the doubt in her head when she may have to come up with a plausible story.
Rolling over on her knees and bracing herself with her right hand on the bed, pressing her forearm to her left side, she pushed up on her feet and staggered out into the living room, surprised to see Oliver standing in her living room. “What are you doing here?”
Sophie noticed his hair was wet, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets, his head bowed, something was wrong and she wasn’t arrogant enough to believe it was about her. This wasn’t the happy go lucky Oliver she had met before. Panic made her fingers tingle. “Are you alone?” she asked, pushing him slightly out of the way to check the corridor, looking suspiciously past him at the door in expectation.
Looking over her head curiously, he saw no one behind him. “Yes. Were you expecting someone else?” He almost sounded disappointed, looking around at the state of the flat; the disorder, the suitcase haphazardly filled with clothes, and a very suspicious bundle of money lying on the bed. “Are you going somewhere?” She had gone pale, biting her lip against the pain. “I wanted to see you,” Oliver said, looking around at the dishevelled state of the flat and then Sophie, clutching her side, the sweat on her brow, flushed cheeks, and the dark fabric obviously wet. “Are you bleeding again?” He sighed and picked up the bag of first aid supplies he had given her abandoned on the table. This wasn’t the way he wanted to see her again. Inadvertently, this was his doing, which only made him feel worse.
Nodding towards the sofa, indicating she should resume the same position as before, “Let me help you,” he said with that coercively soothing voice, looking around for something to pull up to the sofa, settling on the floral chair. “I think we’ll have to go out on a proper date now for sure or this kind of thing will be the only definition we have of our relationship. We haven’t done anything fun yet.” Although what he was saying was light-hearted, he still frowned, the lines across his forehead revealing worry.