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Authors: Maureen Jennings

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Traditional, #War & Military, #Traditional British

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BOOK: Beware This Boy
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Brian could hear his granddad snoring. It was one o’clock. He rubbed his head hard. He was having trouble keeping his thoughts straight. He’d have to ask Donny for more details. Where should he head for? Donny had mentioned contacts in Ireland. Who the fuck were they? Brian hoped they weren’t
IRA
terrorists. He just wanted to disappear until the war was over. Just him and Vanessa, maybe on a farm somewhere. Blending in.

He turned off the light in the room, went over to the window, and lifted the curtain. It was black as a coal hole outside. Not a wink of light anywhere. No bombers tonight, thank God. He was pushing his luck. He had to move the body from the shelter before it was discovered. He fished out a heavy, dark jersey from the dresser. Wait a minute, didn’t he see his old balaclava in the back of the wardrobe last night? Yes, grand – there it was. He pulled it on. Whew, it smelled of camphor. His gran was always strewing mothballs around. He pushed up the window and climbed outside. There he had to wait for a minute until he got more used to the darkness, then crawled along the roof to the drainpipe, swung his legs over, and climbed down.

At the entrance to the shelter he paused, drawing in his breath in a half-sob. It was almost as if there was a running commentary in his brain.
Got to be done. You’ve got to move her now, before it’s too late. Remember, it was an accident. If she wasn’t so old, all that would have happened was she’d get a goose egg on her noggin. You lost your temper, but that happens to people
. But he couldn’t shake off his feelings of shame and regret.

He steeled himself, went inside, and lit the lamp, keeping the wick low. The air inside the shelter was stale, damp, with a hint of something else that he didn’t want to acknowledge. He pulled aside the green curtain. The smell was stronger here and he almost gagged on it. He moved aside the stack of blankets. There was the body now, already stiffened with rigor mortis. He’d folded her up and she’d stayed in that position, so she looked tiny and almost childlike now. He dragged her out, rolled her in one of the blankets, and picked her up. She was too stiff to put on his shoulders, so he had to hold her as if she were indeed a child. A child he was carrying to bed, perhaps, the way his mum had carried him when he was little. He couldn’t remember his dad doing it. He kicked the remaining blankets into place as best he could, blew out the light, went into the passageway of the shelter, and pushed open the door.

The inner commentary started up again. He thought for a minute he was speaking out loud but he wasn’t sure.
No point in crying over spilt milk. Get her buried. Nobody will ever know and you can get on with things. Soldiers have to keep going no matter what they’ve done
.

He headed for the bombed-out house where he’d first holed up. The streets were completely deserted, the houses dark, but he found he had no trouble seeing where he was going.

If you try to shrink into the shadows or if you act like you’ve got something to hide, you’ll draw suspicion. Shoulders back, brisk walk, march like a soldier
.

His burden felt light. Her foot was sticking out from the blanket. She had lost her shoe somewhere. Where? God, it didn’t matter. Nobody would be looking for it. He turned the corner and into Dorset Row. So far, so good. There was the Cowan house. Everywhere around him was quiet as the grave. He struggled over the rubble that was in front of the door and
got inside. Once in the hall, he gently lowered the body to the floor and pushed it against the wall. Should he hide it any more than that? The wall had been loosened by the blast and was leaning in at an angle. One good shove would bring it down. He did just that, and in a cloud of dust the wall collapsed, partially covering the body.

Not a good move, Brian. What if somebody heard?

This time he did speak out loud, answering himself. “Walls are always collapsing after a raid. Besides, there’s nobody left on the street.”

He scrabbled with the rubble and completed the job. Mrs. Swann was quite hidden.

He stepped back.
Maybe you should say a prayer for her
.

“What sort of prayer?”

The Catholics say, “May God have mercy on your soul.” Say that at least
.

“All right.”

Buck up, Brian. It’s all done now. You’d better get back before anybody misses you
.

He slipped out into the darkness.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27

W
HEN
E
ILEEN ARRIVED AT THE FACTORY, SHE FOUND
Mr. Cudmore waiting for her in front of the clinic.

“Miss Abbott, Mr. Endicott has come in today and Mr. Kaplan has persuaded him to take part in the film he’s putting together. Mr. Kaplan suggested a good location to start might be here in the clinic.” He allowed himself a little smile. “Mr. Endicott is not quite comfortable being photographed and we thought something on the active side might help him relax.”

“Good heavens. What do you mean, active?”

Before the secretary had a chance to elaborate, Lev Kaplan appeared carrying a heavy-looking camera on his shoulder.

“Good morning, Miss Abbott. Ready for stardom?”

“Perpetually. Do come in.”

Endicott was trailing behind with obvious reluctance. She ushered them into the waiting room.

“I’ll just take this opportunity to check in with the inspector,” said Cudmore, and he disappeared.

Lev grinned at Eileen. “Thank you for giving us your time, Miss Abbott. We won’t take long.” He started to set up his tripod. “I thought I’d do a pan of the waiting room first. It’s so cozy.”

Eileen felt almost sorry for Endicott, who was fidgeting with his tie like a schoolboy on a first date. “Yes, very nice, very nice,” he muttered.

“Now then, Sister,” said Lev. “Pretend Mr. Endicott has just come in. Open and close the door. Good. Start talking. We’ll
do a voice-over later, so don’t worry about what you say. Just be as natural as you can. Good. Go into the surgery and show him the equipment. Smile. Talk it up.”

Eileen produced a smile and Endicott grimaced fiercely with what she presumed was his equivalent. In fact, his awkwardness brought out her professional side. She was used to men who collapsed into shyness in the presence of a nurse.

“Miss Abbott, perhaps you can demonstrate how you handle blood donations,” Lev called out. “Mr. Endicott, would you just lie on the bed for a moment?”

“Do I have to?” asked the other man, and he twisted his moustache frantically. “I wasn’t expecting to be donating today.”

“Think of it as a contribution to the war effort. It won’t hurt. I can guarantee Miss Abbott is very gentle.”

Endicott climbed reluctantly onto the cot.

“Yes, that’s it. Now cover him over with your pretty quilt, Miss Abbott. Good. Nice smile, now. That always does wonders.”

Eileen patted Endicott’s arm. “Will you remove your jacket, sir. Now roll up your sleeve. I’ll just take your blood pressure first.” She tightened the cuff around Endicott’s arm and pumped up the pressure.

“Hmm, 170 over 95. Rather high.”

For the first time Endicott became engaged in the process. “What does that mean?”

“I suggest you check with your
GP
. He will probably recommend a regimen of diet and exercise for you. You might have to cut out any alcohol.”

“Oh dear, do you really think so?”

“It isn’t something to be ignored, sir. However, one reading isn’t conclusive. The circumstances might have elevated your pressure. A lot of men react in a similar fashion.”

“That’s nice,” said Lev. “Very nice. Mr. Endicott, perhaps you wouldn’t mind lying back again and we can do a repeat.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t donate blood today, Sister,” said Endicott as he lay back.

“Miss Abbott, will you stroke his head, soothe him – do something comforting. Mr. Endicott, you can smile up at her appreciatively.”

Eileen’s encounters with Charles Endicott had been minimal. He was the factory owner, she his employee. She wanted to tell Lev he was being too American again. Take his blood pressure, all right, but stroke his forehead? No, thank you. However, before she could do anything one way or the other, they heard loud screams and cries from outside the clinic.

The door burst open and Cudmore rushed in.

“Sister, Sister, come quick. There’s been an accident on the floor. One of the girls has been scalped.”

Tyler and Eagleton had just arrived at the factory when they heard the screams. They ran through the lobby and shoved open the doors to the factory floor. One of the women was half sitting, half lying in front of her machine with her hands to her head. Blood was streaming through her fingers and had already soaked the front of her overalls. She was sobbing and moaning. A small group of workers was hovering nearby, clutching at each other, unable to look away but terrified by what they saw.

Tyler could see Miss Abbott kneeling beside the injured girl, the top of whose head was a red, jellied mess.

Eileen bent over. “Francine. Francine. Let me have a look. Take your hands away.”

The girl hardly seemed to hear her. She was uttering loud, frightened cries.

Tyler crouched down as well. “Come on, lass. Let the nurse have a look.”

Francine’s sobs subsided slightly, but when she removed her hands and saw the amount of blood on them she let out a high-pitched wail.

Tyler nodded at his constable, who went over to the other women.

“Come on, ladies, step back if you please.”

They shuffled away a few feet. Tyler saw several of the women from the canteen among them. The photographer was standing nearby, not intervening, apparently waiting to be called upon if necessary.

Eileen had a medicine bag beside her from which she took a sterile dressing. She unwrapped it and placed it on the girl’s head. Almost immediately the cotton turned scarlet.

“Do you want me to hold it in place?” Tyler asked.

Eileen nodded. “Now, Francine,” she said to the girl. “Scalp wounds always bleed a lot, so this seems much worse than it is. You’ll be all right when we get you stitched up.” She looked over her shoulder. “Mr. Cudmore, will you go and telephone for an ambulance.”

The secretary hurried off to do her bidding and Eileen slipped her arm around Francine’s shoulders.

“We’re going to get you to sit up on the bench, Frankie. You’ll be more comfortable … I’ll need your help, Inspector.”

Kaplan stepped forward. “We’ll do that. You keep pressure on the pad.”

“All right. You take her under the hips. Inspector Tyler, get her shoulders. On the count of three swing her onto the bench, gently as you can. One … two … three.”

They got Francine up and sitting. Without being asked, Kaplan took another pad from the medical bag and handed it to Eileen, who replaced the sodden one. Tyler heard a whimper from one of the other girls but it was quickly suppressed.

The nurse addressed Pat O’Callaghan. “Go to the clinic. Bring me the packet of ice that’s in the refrigerator. And a pillow and a blanket.”

Pat took off.

Francine’s face was grey-white. Tyler could see her eyes were starting to roll up in her head.

Eileen spoke firmly. “Francine, sit up straight, there’s a girl. I’m going to put a bandage on to keep the dressing in place. Do you think you can hold your head up while I do so?”

“I’ll help her, Sister.”

Tyler was rather surprised to see it was Mary Ringwald-Brown stepping forward. She came over, grasped Francine by the chin to hold her steady with one hand, and pushed down on the pad with the other. Eileen took a triangular bandage from the bag.

In spite of the pressure Mary was putting on the wound, the amount of blood still flowing was horrific. Eileen started to wrap the pad in place.

Cudmore came hurrying back, Pat at his heels. “The ambulance will be here right away, Sister.”

Pat handed over the ice pack and Mary held it on top of the bandage.

Eileen took a long syringe from the bag, which she thrust through the seal of a small ampoule.

“Pat, roll up her sleeve for me … Francine, make a fist, there’s a good girl.” She plunged the needle into the swelling vein. Francine yelped – there had been no time for finesse. Fortunately the tranquilizer was fast-acting, and within moments she became quieter, although her body continued to shudder like a motor car running out of petrol.

Eileen covered her with the blanket and propped a pillow behind her head.

“What happened?” Tyler asked.

“Apparently her hair got entangled in the wheel of her lathe.”

At that moment the scream of the air-raid warning siren tore through the room. Tyler had heard it only once before, when Whitchurch had run a practice. It was a horrible sound, the rise and fall of the wailing like some strange animal in agony.

Eileen straightened up. “Oh God, that’s all we need.” She addressed the girls. “All right everybody, to the shelters. Hurry.”

“What about Frankie?” Mary asked.

“We’ll be fine here. I don’t want her moved.”

“I’ll stay,” said Pat.

“No, you won’t. We’ll be all right. Get out of here.”

The siren continued to wail.

Eagleton had already got the group mobilized. “Everybody to the shelters. Come on, hurry.”

They had been well drilled and began to move to the exit.

“Pat, Mary, get going,” commanded Eileen.

Reluctantly Pat obeyed. Mary followed. Her hands were stained with Francine’s blood and she was wiping them, unheeding, on her overalls.

“Good heavens, I’d better check on Mr. Endicott,” said Cudmore.

“Speaking of which, where is he?” Kaplan asked. “He must still be in the clinic.”

“I’ll have a look,” said the secretary and he scuttled off. The siren continued.

Eagleton returned. He looked nervous. An actual bombing raid was new to him too.

“Eager, go with the women, there’s a lad,” said Tyler. He looked at Eileen. “I’ll stay here. If we have to move her you’ll need help.”

Francine was out for the count by now.

“I’m not going anywhere either,” said Lev. “Yanks can tough it out with any Limey.”

BOOK: Beware This Boy
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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