Authors: Melissa Hill
First published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton, 2008.
Melissa Hill 2005
The right of Melissa Hill to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author. You must not circulate this book in any format.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Thursday October 20: 8.40 a.m.
going to miss this, she told herself. Come hell or high water, she was not going to miss it.
But the rumbling was getting louder by the minute, so, despite her spiky heels and slim-fitting pencil skirt, she had no choice but to make a run for it – an extremely awkward run, that no doubt made her look like she were competing in a three-legged race.
But she’d already been late twice this week and once again the previous week, so she knew that if she missed the train today she was in big trouble. It looked as though she wasn’t the only one running late this morning either, she thought, seeing another harried-looking commuter rush towards the ticket office.
Luckily, she already had a travel-pass and once inside the train station, she scurried through the barrier and breathed a huge sigh of relief to find that the train was still at the platform. Just in time.
Breathing heavily as a result of her sprint, she nipped inside the double doors just seconds before they shut – and nearly catching the hem of her precious John Rocha pink trench coat in the process. Now
would be a disaster!
But the person behind her hadn’t been fast enough and, as the train pulled off, she felt for the unlucky commuter who would undoubtedly have to wait some time for the next train.
She shrugged and repositioned her handbag on her shoulder. Such was life.
The morning service to Dublin was a busy run, and by the time the train reached this station there was normally only standing room in the carriages. But to her immense relief, today there was an unoccupied seat a little way down, one that the other commuters obviously hadn’t yet seen. She smiled softly to herself and quickly made her way to the seat, thrilled to be able to sit down – especially after all that running. But as she pushed through the standing crowd, her handbag slipped off her shoulder and down along her arm before falling awkwardly onto the ground. Typical! The one time she decides to bring her precious Orla Kiely handbag to work and she has to go and drop it on a dirty floor! Inelegantly, she bent down to try and pick it up – the train’s forward movement, as well as the weight of the briefcase in her other hand, unbalancing her.
“Here you go!” Another passenger, a young blonde girl sitting nearest the aisle, had retrieved the bag for her. She gave the pretty pink and white-patterned bag a blatantly appreciative glance before handing it back. “An Orla Kiely, isn’t it?”
“Yes – thanks a million,” she replied breathlessly, and with relief continued on towards that precious seat, which at this stage she needed very badly.
The backs of her thighs were already aching from their unaccustomed exertions, and as she sank gratefully onto the seat and put her briefcase on the floor and her prized handbag on her lap, she reminded herself once more that she really should start going to the gym.
As she dusted off the bag, she shuffled exaggeratedly on her seat, trying to give a not-so-subtle hint to the man beside her to move his things so she could sit comfortably. She’d noticed a bit of extra padding on her backside lately but this was ridiculous – the man
and his belongings were sprawled all over the place! Eventually, Mister got the message and grudgingly, she thought, moved his jacket and laptop to give her some more room.
She caught the eye of an older lady sitting directly across from her and the woman gave a slight conspiratorial smile as if to say ‘typical men!’. She was reading one of those fluffy romance novels and, judging by her age and the relaxed manner in which she carried herself, was most likely the only person on the train today not on her way to work. Then again, she decided, catching sight of some guy in a tracksuit (not your typical be-suited professional) trying to push his way through the standing crowds, who knew what people might be doing?
Lucky thing though, she thought, eyeing the older woman enviously and trying to remember the last time she had been able to lose herself in a cosy read. Speaking of which . . . She reached for her briefcase and, groaning inwardly, withdrew the documents that needed going over for this morning’s meeting. Cosy reading it wasn’t.
Flicking through the documents, she began to read, but soon found that she couldn’t really concentrate. Her mind absently kept going over what the love of her life had said to her the night before.
“We need to talk,” he’d announced. God, that was such a cliché, but they knew each other inside out, and seemed to be getting on really well lately, so what on earth could be wrong? Her mind raced as she tried to come up with a few possible scenarios – was he going off her, had he decided that they shouldn’t be together after all or . . .
And then it hit her. Of course! He was going to propose! Thinking back on it now, it hadn’t been a serious ‘we need to talk’ – it was more of a nervous ‘we need to talk’! So after all this time, he’d finally cottoned on to the fact that he couldn’t live without her!
She hugged herself excitedly, crumpling her work papers in the process. But at a time like this who cared about work?
She could be wrong of course, and could very well be jumping to hasty conclusions, but somehow deep down she knew she was right! She had to be! They had a fantastic time together, and were madly in love, so what was the next step only marriage? Thinking of proposals and engagement rings, a horrified thought struck her. Please, please may he not have picked out the ring himself! The man was perfect in every other way, but God love him, he had terrible taste in jewellery! She remembered the time he had given her this absolutely hideous, tacky-looking silver chain one Christmas – it looked as though he had picked it up in –
Just then, her thoughts were cut off by this tremendous . . . incredibly overpowering . . . ear-splitting . . .
sound, and she instantly put her hand to her ears to try and block it out. What was going on?
Then, all of a sudden, the train began to shudder, and although she had no idea what was happening, her body tensed and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She looked wildly around the carriage, wondering if everyone else had heard it, or was she the only one? No, the older woman across from her looked terrified, confused . . . everyone looked bewildered . . . and then there was this incredible roar, a sound so deafening it was unlike anything she had ever heard before, so loud it was as though it had invaded her mind, her body, her entire being. Her heart hammered, her brain flooded with this other, even more excruciating noise . . . and then her seat jerked forward . . . and for a strange few moments, it seemed as though time had slowed to a crawl and everything was happening in slow motion. Surreally, the entire carriage seemed to have lifted off the
tracks, and the train was now travelling on thin air. But that couldn’t be the case, could it, she thought absently, as a tremendous force winched her out of her seat.
Trains couldn’t fly, could they?
Thursday October 20: 10.10 a.m.
The normally self-assured and flawlessly composed Clare Rogers today looked ragged and white-faced. She stared unseeingly into the camera, as if she wasn’t quite sure where she was and what she was doing.
When she spoke, her words sounded panicked and uncertain – totally inappropriate for a professional TV journalist – but then again, she thought, when had she ever needed to report something like this?
In her earpiece she heard the voice of Richard Heffernan speaking live from the RTE news studio.
“Our correspondent, Clare Rogers, is at the scene of this mornings’ train derailment on the east coast. Clare, can you tell us anything concrete at this stage?” he asked.
Clare began slowly. “Well, Richard, the emergency services have just arrived at the location, so details are very sketchy at this time.” Her voice trembled slightly as she spoke. “All I can confirm is that this train is a very busy commuter carrier serving the east coast to Dublin city centre. However, it seems very likely that the route suffered a signalling failure, which resulted in the train’s derailment here near Merrion Gates.”
“And is there any indication as to what might have happened to cause this derailment?” Richard prompted.
“Again, Richard, we can’t confirm anything at present. I do know that Rail Ireland will be making a statement in due course, so we should know more then. However, before we went on air, I spoke to a number of witnesses – commuters sitting in traffic and waiting to pass through the gates – who’ve helped me reconstruct the scene. They saw, or rather
the train braking loudly from some distance, which would suggest that the train driver may have spotted traffic passing through the crossing, and identified immediately that there was a problem with the signal. Seconds later, the train derailed a few yards from the gates. It then careered across the tracks and through a concrete wall before ending up on the strand here.” Clare swallowed hard. “Luckily, there were no southbound trains coming the other way at the time,” she added quietly.
“So the driver tried to stop the train in order to avoid crashing into the early-morning traffic?”
“Perhaps – again we’re just not sure. No doubt there will be a full investigation, but at the moment, the emphasis is of course on the rescue efforts.” Once more, Clare’s professional façade dropped slightly, and her eyes betrayed her inner distress.
“Now, a signal failure, this is something that is most unusual for this country’s rail network, isn’t it?” Richard went on – evidently intent on getting to the bottom of the situation.
“That’s right,” Clare confirmed. “Derailments can unfortunately be quite common for our neighbours in the UK, simply because of the fact that there are a number of rail companies operating and using the line network there. The system is well organized, but signals can get confused. Which,” she said, once more struggling to keep her voice even, “can lead to accidents like this one.”
“But we have only one rail carrier operating here in Ireland, Clare, and as a result mistakes are very rare, aren’t they?”
“Usually, yes. But Richard, over the last couple of months, Rail Ireland have been carrying out a number of upgrades throughout the network. Although it is only speculation at this stage – and as I said, the company will be making a full statement soon – it would appear that the signalling system on this particular level crossing may have failed.” She swallowed hard.
“Which would obviously have serious implications for the company,” Richard finished solemnly.
Clare looked directly into the camera. “Very serious implications, Richard,” she agreed, her voice grim. “At this time of morning, the train would have been full of commuters, regular users of this service, and – as I’m sure our viewers can tell from our camera footage of the scene – there will be a high number of serious injuries, and undoubtedly some fatalities.”
“Thank you, Clare – we’ll come back to you later for the Rail Ireland press conference.” The footage of the wreck disappeared from the screen, and the picture cut back to the newsroom studio. Richard looked solemnly into the camera before adding, “Our thoughts go out to the friends and families of any viewers at home whose loved ones might have taken this particular train to work this morning. Stay tuned for further updates.”