Sisters 45

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CHAPTER 45
“What’s happened, Tony?”

“Head injury, breaks all over. Hit by a car”

“Calm, love. Calm. Where is she?”

“Our local hospital. Mum’s with her, and Sar, but she’s in a right state”

“Tone, go and look after them, aye? I’ll make some calls. Who have you rung so far?”

“Just you, Lainey. She’s—“

“Tony, love, get back to your family, aye? I will sort”

“Thanks, love”

I rang off before I officially heard his tears start and dialled the first number.

“Lainey? Problem?”

“Aye, my sweet. Can you get a couple of days off, now-ish? Alice is in hospital, hit by a car. We need someone to get over and I can’t get out of a meeting today”

Siân was silent for a few seconds. “Sounds bad. We were going to be out with Kev and Vicky tomorrow. I’ll sort that one out; what about your uncle?”

“What about him?”

“Bloody hell you can be blind sometimes, and deliberately it is I am sure! He can drive me; you follow when you can. I’ll call him myself. Shit!”

Another call, and Mam was clearly straight into tears. One old woman had obviously touched my family more deeply than I had realised, and not just my uncle.

“Elaine, your Dad and I will drive over as soon as we can, aye? Have you told your uncle yet?”

“Siân has that in hand, Mam. I’ll get over tomorrow; things I can’t get out of”

“Give them our love. Now, go and do what you need to but keep us up to date when you can. And don’t push your uncle”

I was out of touch after that, the miles unwinding behind me as I drove east. Sarah’s mate Andy was at the house with his new wife, and to my astonishment he threw himself at me for a hug before bursting into tears. They had Jim with them, and a noisy dog, but there was a darkness in their eyes that spoke of pain and fear. Bev, the chunky brunette, filled me in.

“Siân’s up the hospital with Arwel. Still early days, but I think Tony’s mum is near collapse. We’re about to eat, so we’ll go up together if you like”

“What actually happened?”

“Car jumped a red, knocked Alice into the middle of next week. Lots of breaks, but she hit her head on the door pillar and, well, there’s damage”

Shit and damnation. "How much?”

“Don’t know. Andy, put kettle on? Ta”

She waited till he was gone, and then whispered to me “Alice saved him from a false rape claim some years ago. He would do anything for her, anything at all, and…”

Her own tears were hanging. “I knew I had found a decent man, Elaine, but now I know I found a GOOD one, yeah? Keep it light, please”

As he returned from the kitchen, she spoke normally. “Shit driving the car punched Sarah in the face, so she’s a bit bruised, but there was a copper on scene and they used what they said was reasonable force, if you catch my drift. Alice is a popular woman in Canterbury”

“I will demonstrate reasonable force, aye?”

Andy laughed, which seemed to ease his soul a little. “Think your uncle’s got that one covered, Elaine! Scary man! Now, practicalities. Not being funny, but are you here for a while? We both have work to cover, and Jim, well, he’s lovely, but…”

Bev took his hand. “Not like that, Elaine. We’ve set up a sort of watch roster, one or more of us at the bedside all of the time, but it is nice to be at home, and…”

“No worries, and thank you. Jim’s grandparents are over in a couple of days, and me and my lovely girl will be here, so thank you. True friends you are”

Andy looked at his own woman and smiled, before turning back to me. “Family is what we are, Elaine. If it wasn’t for Alice, some of us might not be here. Oh, I was going to talk some crap about paying debts, but families don’t have debts, do they? You should just be there when you’re needed, when you can be. Now, I think my job is to go out that door. Chip run: what do you want?”

Jim came in with two mugs of tea. “Can I have nuggets, Uncle Andy?”

“You can, young man. Elaine?”

“Haddock, if they have it. Want some cash?”

“And how much have you just spent on petrol, you and your uncle? Back in ten”

Jim went for the other cup, and I looked at Bev and gave her the best smile I could find. “Good men are hard to find, but, well, aye”

She timed “And even better when they are good and hard” for my first sip, the cow.

Mam and Dad were true to their word a couple or three days later, and I was able to take a step back. I hate hospitals, I really do, for every time I enter a ward it is Sar I see in the bed, or Omar, or Chris. I have visions of Diane there, too, and the hatred for that entire family brings bile to my throat. I wanted to know about this driver. I wanted his balls, and I wanted to get to them before Arwel did.

When I first entered the little room Alice looked a mess, which is a really obvious thing to say, but it was true. Her head was immobilised and covered in yards of bandage, there were wires and tubes everywhere including down her throat, and pieces of miniature scaffolding were sticking out of her limbs. My wife was with me, and her arms were warm, and her hair was familiar as I buried my face in it, and they were the only things that kept me from my own tears. Family, Andy had said. My sister had a black eye and a fat lip, but she wasn’t the broken doll that Joe Evans had left behind, the debris Pritchard and his bastard friend had spat on. Sarah was fighting now, clearly scared but still showing that steel her uncle had spoken of.

Family.

There was a PC there when I arrived, 4632 Gilmore, and Tony introduced us.

“Dawn, this is Sarah’s sister Elaine. Elaine, Dawn is Sar’s local neighbourhood officer”

I gave her the raised eyebrow and she twisted her mouth. “Yeah, I was the one on scene, evil little bastard. Got there just as he smacked Sarah in the mouth”

I could feel the grin, and it was feral. “Reasonable force necessarily employed as per ACPO guidelines?”

“Absolutely, and sprayed the fucker at the desk. You’re Job”

“Inspector Elaine Powell, Dyfed-Powys”

“Ma’am!”

“Oh, stop that! Lainey to friends, aye? What we got, girl?”

She grinned herself, just as ferally as I had. “Oh, a very, very full book that he isn’t going to walk away from”

“Can he actually walk now?”

“I suspect that he might find it difficult for a few days. Your sister did try to punch him in the nuts, actually. Feisty little girl. And that uncle of yours, dear god. I’m trying to get him and Sar’s hubby to come to court, just to frighten the shit out of him. You got any others like that?”

“Oh yes indeed. I shall speak to people. Now, work head on, aye? What do you need?”

“Got the statement from Sar already, and mine’s done, and Barry’s, he’s the PCSO. Got a trawl on for shop cameras and already got the street CCTV. All covered, really. Just need some help from the Big Guy up top with Alice. I mean, look at this lot: positive bloody wave city here!”

“Thanks, Dawn. Really thanks”

“No need, Inspector”

“Lainey. And yes, there is always need. Always say thank you, it’s never unnecessary”

“Yeah, well. Alice has always been a favourite of ours, always one of the good guys. You get a bit jaded in Canterbury, what with the tourists and the thieving Froggy school kids, so you value the sound as a pound ones on your beat. You know that, yeah? Alan, Alice, whatever. He was always out of kilter a bit, but she’s sorted. A good woman, just, sorry about the pun, just need the doctors to make her better. I’m off. Going to let ‘er indoors give me a back rub in the bath and order a takeaway”

Her eyes flicked to my wife, and she grinned, cheekily this time, and was gone.

No, Inspector Powell, put those thoughts away. Both of you most emphatically spoken for! I settled down for the first of several days of shift work watching over our family. When she woke and spoke for the first time, it was even harder, for it seemed that it was only their fears for Alice that had kept my sister and her mother-in-law upright, and when those strings were cut they collapsed. It was Arwel who truly surprised me, for I caught him outside the ward with a tissue to his eyes.

“You, café, now”

He looked at me through red-rimmed eyes and muttered something about sisters and a double act, but followed me to the Friends’ place and let me buy him a cuppa. I did my best to pull my horns in, but I can’t have been too subtle, for he simply reached out to my lips with one blunt finger to silence me.

“Girl, you and your sister are two of a kind, aye? Never know when to leave well alone. So for once, listen. I was wrong about Sarah, and I knew that as soon as I saw her in the Oak with the boy. I said I was wrong then, and I still admit it now. She opened my eyes, aye? So think: if I can see Sarah, why shouldn’t I see that other woman, see her as she is? Yes, I know what she’s got in her knickers, but so what? A man gets older, he sees more in a woman than a shag, and a shag gets less important anyway. That Alice, she can think, aye? Don’t always agree with her but she fights her corner, makes sense sometimes. She’s good company, girl, and that’s important”

I went to speak, and the finger was back. “No, Lainey. My speech, aye? I lost my girl, the boy lost his Mam, aye? Fair put me off the idea for years, sharing, cause when you share, and it goes, it fucking well hurts, and so you avoid that pain and you do the big strong man routine, aye? But who do I talk to? The boy’s too young, stupid ideas, rubbish music, and the lads in the pub are too thick to shit, and nobody ever CHALLENGES. Alice is, well, she’s what I need in many ways”

“She’s still a man, Uncle”

“No. She isn’t. I mean, yes she is, and don’t think that doesn’t leave me squirming, aye? But she’s as real as Sar, as real as your missus. I… I don’t know if I can do this right, girl, but if I can it will BE right, and I can’t risk losing that and yet I don’t know if I can really forget about, you know what. Look, get Sarah off my back, aye, and climb down yourself. I promise one thing: I will never hurt the old woman”

“Thank you. I’ll try”

He grunted, and checked the café for listeners. “If ever the chance is there, I’m going to kill that driver, though”



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