Alternate Universe RNLI
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Betaed by Kerry.
Ezra stepped out of the taxi and, having paid the driver, began the short stroll to his flat. He'd deliberately asked the driver to stop on the far side of the pretty little square. It had been a very pleasurable night out with an old school friend. They'd a wonderful meal, with wine, theatre (drinks in the interval) followed by a pleasant few hours in a pub, very pleasurable, but now, at nearly two in the morning, he was more than a little tipsy and needed the walk to clear his head. The day had been gloriously sunny, which, it being late October, meant that the night was frosty. His one bedroom flat was located in a converted Georgian town house in the elegant, but little known square just a few minutes stroll from Harrods.
He lifted his head as he crossed the formal gardens in the middle of the square, expecting to see the stars. There were a few, but not many, he shook his head, in Cornwall he could see the Milky Way, in London the light pollution was so bad he was lucky to see Orion. It saddened him, and at the same time reminded him how quickly he had become used to the quiet and the dark of the country. Leaving the gardens by the gate in the centre of the street, he crossed the road at an angle, heading for his building.
He was aware of the noise of an approaching car, but in such a huge city the traffic never stopped, so he paid it no mind. The next thing he was aware of was flying; he was flying though the air. In an almost surreal moment of clarity he thought. Damn this is going to hurt. Just as the dark black of the tarmac came up to meet him and there was only blackness.
Chris woke to the incessant beeping of his mobile phone. It took him some time to even work out that it was sitting on the charger, on the hotel dressing table, on the far side of the room.
"This better be bloody worth it," he muttered, crawling out of bed. "Bet it's Buck, his idea of a joke" he reached the phone and picked it up. "Larabee, what do you want?" he demanded.
"Um, sir, we called a Mr Wilmington and he gave us your number," the woman on the other end began.
"Bloody Buck! I knew it was him! Do you know what time it is?!"
"Yes sir, it's about five in the morning, I'm sorry to disturb "
"Oh I just bet you are, what did that son of a bitch tell you to say "
"Sir there is no need to swear, I'm calling from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Mr Wilmington told us you know a Mr Ezra Standish?"
It took Chris a little while to process what she had just said. "What did you say?"
"Mr Ezra Standish has been in an accident, we called the first number on his mobile, it was Mr Wilmington, he is in Cornwall but he gave us your number, he said you were closer?"
Oh God, please let this be a joke. I promise Buck, I'll stand you a pint if this just a joke. "What's happened?"
The woman told him what she knew, that Mr Standish had been knocked down, that was all she knew.
"I'm on my way," Chris told her, "tell me were you are."
When Chris had landed a contract to supply organic lamb to Waitrose he couldn't have been happier. When he and Sarah moved in to the farm, after his father died, it was barely braking even. It was Sarah who suggested using the old stable block to set up a riding stable, it quickly took of, filling a gap in the holiday market as well as proving popular with locals. The financial cushion it gave them, made converting to organic production possible - also Sarah's idea. She didn't live to see it finally come good. The income from the sables, even with paying Casey to run it, and the much better price the organic lamb commanded, had made for a very comfortable living. All that said, had Chris known supplying a big national chain of supermarkets meant having to travel all the way to Berkshire for meetings, he might have has second thoughts.
True they paid his travel expenses and accommodation. He'd taken the sleeper up to London, crossed from Paddington Station to Waterloo, then took a train out to Bracknell. Why such a prestigious company like Waitrose had it's headquarters in such a boring and grim location he couldn't fathom. Of course Bracknell was a new town and there had no doubt been government grants and tax brakes to make it more 'attractive' as a location. Chris didn't think it was worth it. The hotel was new and comfortable, but it as also bland and characterless, a white tower block, located in the centre of the town, every room the same.
Frustratingly, the first train wasn't until six that morning, so, by the time he reached the hospital, it was almost seven thirty. He waited in line with as much patience as he could muster in front of the reception desk.
"Yes dear?" the lady behind the desk asked.
"I'm looking for Ezra Standish, he was hit by a car."
She nodded and began typing "S-T-A-N-D-I-S-H?"
"Yes," Chris confirmed.
"He's not on the system, when was he admitted?"
"Well I got a call at about five a.m." Chris told her.
She went back to her computer. "No, no Standish, and no one with a similar name was admitted to day except a Mrs Glades Standing and she's 82, sorry."
Chris placed two hands on the desk and leaned forward. "Someone called Simran called me at five a.m. and told me my friend had been hit by a car and was unconscious, here, at this hospital, so were the hell is he?"
"There is no need to shout, I'm doing my best. Now we do have a patient liaison called Simran, and she was working here last night, but your friend's name is not on the computer unless "
"Let me just check something."
The woman, who looked to be about seventy and had a pronounced south London accent began typing again. After a few moments she looked up, relief all over her face. "He's not in the mortuary."
Chris suddenly pulled up short, he hadn't even considered that possibility. "Right, well good so where is he?"
"All I can suggest is that you go to A and E and ask them, this time of the morning it shouldn't be too much of a mad house."
By the time he made it to the A and E reception and waited in line, it was eight thirty. The accident department had not heard of Ezra Standish, no matter how much Chris insisted he had been there, no one knew anything about him.
"The trouble is sir, all the night shift have gone home now," the receptionist explained. "Except for some of the junior doctors."
"Well go and ask them," Chris insisted.
"They are all busy. When one of them is free, I'll ask if they remember your friend."
Chris was about to go ballistic, when a mother carrying a balling toddler with blood pouring from his head barged past him demanding help. Backing off he stepped outside and called Buck, maybe this really was one huge practical joke the two of them were pulling.
"Hell Chris, I'd never do something like that. This woman called I gave her your number, seeing as you 're there. What's going on?"
"Damn people have lost him, all they can say is that he's not in the morgue."
"Well guess thats one small mercy. It's got to be a clerical error, just look for him."
"In the hospital of course! Damn it, you can cut out stuff like maternity and the children's ward, geriatrics, stuff like that. Just look for him."
"Have you any idea how big this fucking place is?"
"No, but I don't know what else to suggest."
Chris took a deep breath, poor Buck must have been awake and worried sick ever since he got the phone call, the pub kitchen was probably sparkling like new. "Sorry, I'll call you back when I know something."
He stepped back in to the waiting area, relieved that the mother and wailing child had been taken into the treatment area. He was tempted to just barge in there himself, but decided to give the reception desk another go, the abrasive woman he'd spoken to before was on the phone, so he approached the eager looking young man who'd appeared beside her.
His name was Carl, and he was more willing to 'think outside the box' and disappeared into the treatment area, promising to return quickly. Quickly turned out to be twenty minuets, but he was smiling when he came back.
"Standish Ezra P - right?" he asked.
"He's not here." Chris must have given him the look, because the poor man started talking very fast. "He was here, but they transferred him to Charing Cross almost immediately."
"Then why the hell did I get a call telling me he was here?"
The man shrugged. "Sorry, I guess the patient liaison office didn't get the message, the guy I spoke to said it was manic here last night."
"But he's sure Ezra was sent to Charring Cross?"
"Sure, he said "
"Well, we don't do neuro-surgery here, that's way they transferred him so fast."
"Oh shit. Ok, how do I get there, to Charring Cross?"
"Fast, you take a taxi, there is a bus but it's rush hour and it's takes for ever at the best of times " Chris was already heading out.
Chris didn't consider himself a county bumpkin, he was a man of the world, just not of cities. He was born and grew up in Four Corners - a small sea side town, but then he left. While they loved and respected each other, Chris and his widowed father didn't get on. So Chris had taken a year off, before starting university. After six months working on an Australian Sheep station, he travelled back home via New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and India. After university he returned to India were he spent three years with working with sheep farmers in the Himalayas to improve the quality of their stock and animal husbandry. He then travelled to Africa where he did similar work with cattle farmers. It was in Africa that he met Sarah. She was doing voluntary service, working as an English teacher. Not long after they met, his father died and he and Sarah returned to England to take over the farm and start a family.
Despite all this experience, despite having faced drug gangs, smugglers, bandits, war lords, flood, drought, lions, hyenas and any number of snakes, bugs and tropical diseases, he still felt uneasy in big cites. They made him feel claustrophobic and suffocated, worse they made him short tempered and seem to have some detrimental affect on his ability to think straight. He'd thought the Chelsea and Westminster was a big hospital, until he arrived at Charring Cross - it was just vast.
"How the hell do I find him in there?" he asked out load.
"What was that mate?" the taxi driver asked.
It turned out, once you were in the hospital were your friend actually had been formally admitted, finding them wasn't that difficult. Finding the department took some doing, but after couple of false starts Chris made it to the intensive care unit. The nurse was actually happy to see him, she didn't have much information, as Ezra has only arrived from recovery a short time before he had walked in.
"The doctor is with him now, all I have is that is he was hit by a car and he'd got a head injury. Are you his next of kin?"
"No, that would be his mother, but this being October she'll be out of the country until Christmas at least." Chris explained.
"Have you contacted her?"
Chris shook his head. "I have no idea how to get hold of her, I don't even know what country she's in."
The nurse smiled sympathetically. "Well that does make things difficult. Officially we are only meant to give out information to the next of kin. You're a friend?"
"Yes, and his " he struggled to find a way to explain their relationship in a way she would understand. "His captain." Captain would make more sense to her than 'coxswain'.
"Captain?" she looked skeptical.
"I'm the coxswain of the Four Corners Lifeboat, Ezra - Mr Standish - is a member of my crew."
She looked genuinely surprised. "Wow! I mean, really?"
Chris pulled out his RNLI identification.
"Cool," she gushed. "I mean that's wonderful, I think you guys are amazing. Have a seat Sir, I'll speak to the doctor."
Ezra had regained conscious to the sound of a stranger's voice and pain. His hips felt as if they were on fire and although he seemed to be lying on the most painful side he had no intention of moving, fearing what would happen.
"Sir? Sir can you hear me? I've called 999, the ambulance is coming."
The voice was unfamiliar.
"Can you tell me your name?"
I know my name, can I say it? "Ezra Standish." I can.
"Hello Ezra, mine's Rick. You just lie there and don't move, help's coming, soon, I promise. Can you tell me where it hurts?"
"My hip." Where did that come from? Truth be told it all hurts.
"Just lie still mate, help's coming, don't try to move."
Wasn't planning on moving.
It seemed to take hours, though in truth it was less then five minutes, before blue flashing lights were approaching them.
"What happened," the first paramedic asked, as she ran up.
It was hard to answer her questions, either he didn't remember what had happened, or the pain made it hard to formulate an answer. All he wanted was for the pain to stop. Finally she was saying something about the pain. Something was placed in his hand.
"It's just gas and air, place it in your mouth and breath normally, it's going to help with the pain You can use it as often as you need to, just remember to breath normally," she told him.
Ezra didn't think he'd experienced anything so wonderful, the pain dulled almost immediately and he began to have a sort of floating feeling. The entonox was vital, as they moved him onto a backboard and into the ambulance. High on gas and air he hardly notice the ride to the hospital, until they took the wonderful gas dispenser away from him after he was transferred to a trolley in the A and E department, and the wonderful Sara was replaced by the rather brusque, Doctor Denison. Denison might not have been as gentle as Sara, but he was efficient. He had Ezra assessed and back on entonox in no time. Ezra guessed it was the drug but as they waited for the portable x-ray to take pictures of his head and hips he was fining it harder and harder to understand what people were saying. The last thing he did hear clearly was an alarmed voice saying something like 'GCS dropping fast'.
Chris waited with as much patience as he could managed, half an hour past, then an hour, another half-hour. He was just about to go back and demand to know what was going on, when a man in a white coat approached him.
"Are you here for Mr Standish?" he asked.
Chris shot to his feet. "Yes, how is he?" he asked, as he advanced to meet the doctor.
"Let's sit down," the doctor suggested.
Chris heart sank, it was never good when doctors said that, that's what the doctors said when he went to the hospital after Sarah and Adam were knocked down. Nonetheless he moved back to the seats and waited for the doctor to join him.
"I'm sorry for the delay, it's always difficult when the next of kin is unavailable, it's puts us in a grey area - ethically - but the patient's needs have to take priority, Mr Standish is going to need a friend so "
"So tell me," Chris prompted.
"They tell me it was a hit and run."
Chris felt his stomach give a spasmodic lurch, bile threatening to rise.
"He has two injuries that are of concern, a fractured pelvis and a fractured skull. While the pelvis fracture is not of it's self a problem, there has been some internal bleeding from the underlying organs and soft tissue. At the moment we are able to control this bleeding. But if it doesnt stop in the next forty-eight hours we'll have to operate again. The fractured skull is more serious, it's caused what's called an epidural hematoma."
"Epidural? I though that was something you give woman in labour?" Chris asked.
"Well I could give you a long medical explanation as to why they have the same name, or you can just trust me on this." Chris didn't respond, so he carried on. "He had what we call a depressed fracture, the broken bone of the skull was pressed down into the dura mater - that's the outer cover of the brain. This is a tough membrane, it has to be to protect the brain, but to be as tough as it is it needs a good blood supply and unfortunately that means when it's damaged it bleeds copiously. There is no extra space in the skull, which means the accumulated blood presses on the brain."
"Like a subdural hematoma?" Chris asked, he'd never heard of an epidural hematoma, but his first aid training did cover subdural hematomas.
"Yes, in a subdural hematoma the bleeding is slower, the symptoms can take hours or even days to manifest, in epidural hematomas - which are much rarer - there is very rapid bleeding. Mr Standish was in the accident department at the Chelsea and Westminster with in fifteen minutes of being knocked down and began to show signs of head trauma within minuets. He was lucky his skull was fractured."
"Lucky?" Chris asked incredulously.
"The brake in the bone allowed some of the blood to escape, which slowed the build up of pressure on the brain. This outer bleeding caused a visible swelling here." He tapped his head just above and behind his ear. "The doctor treating your friend recognised the symptoms, knew his hospital couldn't treat it and had him rushed over to us with out delay. He saved his life."
"So what happens now?" Chris asked. "They told me down stairs he was having an operation."
"The neurosurgeon has drained the blood, which has relieved the pressure and pulled the depressed section of skull back into place. What we do here is monitor him very closely to see if the bleeding is continuing. We don't want to be doing invasive neuro-surgery to stop bleeding if it will heal it's self."
"Heal it's self? How?"
"If cut your finger and it bleeds, dose that necessarily mean you need stitches?"
Chris had to admit it didn't.
"There is a good chance it will heal with out any further surgery."
"So then he'll be okay?" Chris knew there was little chance of this being true, but he couldn't help but ask, just on the off chance the doctor would say yes. If the doctor said yes everything would be okay, that horrid pain in his gut would go. If the doctor said yes, Ezra's internal bleeding would stop with out any further surgery and he'd be taking him back to Cornwall in a few days, a week at the most. Except except the doctor had that face on, the one doctors all have when they are about to crush your hopes, the one the doctor had when he told Chris his wife and son were both dead. In one of those wired sudden thoughts that flash though your mind at inappropriate times, Chris suddenly wondered if they taught 'the face' at medical school.
"There is a long way to go, right now he'd in a coma. Until he comes out of the coma there is now way to know the extent of any brain damage."
"That's a possibility?"
"I won't lie to you, it's more like a probability."
Since it was going to be some time before he was permitted to see Ezra, Chris walked out side so he could switch on his mobile and call Buck.
"Hi it's me," he began.
"About bloody time!" Buck fumed. "What the hell's going on? I've been calling you for hours, dont you ever turn your phone on?"
"I've been in the hospital - where I have to turned it off!" Chris snapped back.
There was a long silence at the other end of the line, finally Buck spoke again. "Oh, right, of course."
Chris also took a moment to pause. "It's okay mate. Looks like someone knocked him down last night, hit an run."
"Bastards," Buck muttered darkly.
"Right. He's busted his pelvis, got some internal bleeding there and a fractured skull. That's caused what the do calls, an epidural hematoma. I don't know all the ins and outs of it, you'll have to ask Nathan. Basically there was pressure on his brain and he's in a coma."
"But he's gonna be okay - right?"
"I just told you he's in a coma. Doc's being pretty pessimistic."
"They always are, miserable lot."
"What ever, can you call Casey, tell her I'll be away for a bit and ask Harry to take care of the flock and Fly?"
"Sure no problem."
"And, well I hate to ask, but can you and Vin keep a general eye in things?"
Buck all but snorted. "Why do you hate to ask? You know we're happy to do it. Just take care of Ez, don't let them medics tell him he can't."
"Anything, bloody medicos are always tell you, you can't do this, you can't do that, that'll never get any better - you start believing them and you're doomed. You watch them."
Chris was momentarily taken aback. He'd always known that, with the possible exception of Nathan (and even they had their run ins), Buck had a universally low opinion of doctors. Of course, on the other hand, he considered nurses to be paragons of verdure, especially the female ones. Yet this was the first time he'd ever heard his friend actually articulate his feelings of dislike and distrust.
"Right well don't worry, I'm here."
As he headed back into the hospital, he was still wondering just were Buck evident contempt for doctors had come from.
Chris had seen people in intensive care before, most recently Buck. He though he was read for it, but he was wrong. There lay Ezra, who always took such care over his appearance, who was always in control, now almost invisible under the tubes and the wires and the machines, his head swathed in thick white bandages.
Oh God Ez, what have they done to you?
The doctor, who according to his security badge was called Daniel Marshall, stood beside him.
"It looks worse than it is," he assured.
"It would have to, if it didn't, he'd be dead," Chris told him, because to him it couldn't look any worse.
"I'm sure that you've been told people in comas can still hear?" Chris nodded. "And in a natural coma that may well be true in many cases, but this is not entirely natural. We are artificially maintaining the coma to give his body and his brain a chance to rest and recover. Until we start to reduce the drugs he's going to be totally oblivious to everything."
"Small mercies." Chris looked over at Ezra and smiled sadly. "But I'll stay."
The doctor looked at him. "You won't do him any good. Go home, take a brake, comeback in the morning. Between then and now nothing's likely to change. Just leave us a contact number, in case..."
It didn't feel right, but Chris could see the logic in the argument. He did persuade the staff to let him have access to Ezra's personal possessions. He didn't want to have to find a hotel room, so - since he didn't think under the circumstances Ezra would mind - he took his flat keys.
Once outside the hospital, he called Buck and gave him the news.
"I'm gonna stay at Ezra's place, can you ask Nathan for the address?" he asked.
Nathan had stayed in Ezra's flat that summer, while attending a medical conference.
"Ask him your self, he just walked in." Buck handed the phone to Dr Jackson.
He was half way to the nearest tube station before he'd finished speaking with Nathan, who insisted that he repeat everything the doctor had told him, word for word. By the time he hung up he was half way across the cemetery. It did strike him as somewhat counter productive for patient moral to sight a hospital right next to graveyard.
He was passing the hotel two doors down from Ezra's place, when he pulled up short. There on the railings were the remains of some blue and white police tape, just beyond it, a yellow sign standing at the side of the road. He couldn't see the writing with out walking into the road, but he knew that it was asking passing motorists if they had seen anything. He hadn't bothered to find out exactly where Ezra had been knocked down, now, in a sickening moment of clarity, he knew, just knew, that this was were it happened, less than fifty yard from his own front door. He stared at the road, trying to make out any evidence of an accident, but there was nothing, no bloodstain, no tire marks, no broken headlight glass, nothing. With a sad shake of his head, he continued on his way.
Ezra's flat was on the third floor, a glass paned door, lead to a long hallway of which several door opened. Chris dropped the overnight bag and suit carrier he'd been toting all over London for hours, and set out to explore. The flat had one bedroom and was as smart and as tastefully decorated as he'd expected; the kitchen was new, the fittings red with chrome handles, the living room was decorated in creams and red, with gold accents, the bedroom in cream and soft green. The bathroom made him whistle, he always knew Ezra hated to get dirty, he hadn't realised how seriously he took keeping clean. The bathroom was luxurious, with black and white floor tiles, floor to ceiling tiles on the walls and what looked like very expensive, very shiny fittings. There was the usual sanitary wear, as well as a large bath and a huge wet room shower.
"Nice one Ez," Chris commented out loud.
By now it was late afternoon and Chris realised he hadn't eaten all day. Ezra's kitchen proved to be almost devoid of food, containing only some breakfast serial - but no milk, coffee and a few tins of soup, there were however numerous leaflets from companies offering to deliver food, everything from posh restaurants offering a full catering service to run of the mill take-aways. He ordered himself an Indian, to be delivered in an hour and headed back to the bathroom.
When Chris walked into ICU at the stroke of two the next day, the time visiting hours started, he didn't expect Ezra to have any visitors, let along some man in a cheap suit who had got there before him. The man looked to be in his thirties, he had close-cropped dark hair, an open face and was sporting a black eye. There was a note pad in his hand as he spoke to Doctor Marshall.
"Hello?" Chris came to stand at the end of Ezra's bed, eyeing the man suspiciously.
"This is the man I was telling you about," the doctor told the new comer.
"You're Mr Standish's friend?" the man asked.
"Yes, who are you?"
Reaching into his pocket, the man produced a Met Police warrant card. "Detective Constable Catt, I'm investigating the accident. Can we speak somewhere else?"
Chris glanced back at Ezra, then nodded. Once outside, they moved to the family room, Detective Catt closed the door behind him.
"It's no good asking me anything about it," Chris began. "I wasn't here when it happened and Ez isn't in any state to give you a statement."
"Oh I know that. I was hoping to take Mr Standish's clothes to the forensic guys?" he phrased it like a question.
Chris wasn't sure why he was being asked, but agreed. "Sure, what ever you need." Something didn't feel right, detectives didn't often investigate hit and run accidents, that was usually done by the uniformed traffic police. "What's going on?"
"The uniform guys took a statement from the hotel night porter who called 999. He'd just come out for a smoke, but he was looking the wrong way, didn't see what happened. However, the hotel's security camera had a partial view and from what you can see on the tape, it looks as if it may not have been an accident."
Chris took a moment to process all this information. "You mean this was deliberate, someone tried to kill him?" he asked incredulously.
"Either that or the driver was very, very drunk, or high. What ever was going on, it does look as if the car drove directly at Mr Standish and made no attempt to brake or avoid him."
For three days Chris lived in Ezra's flat and visited him in hospital, he arrived at two p.m. prompt and didn't leave until the nurses kicked him out at eight. As soon as he walked out of the building he called home to report on Ezra's progress to the others. After the first visit and the first call home, he'd taken to carrying a note pad with him, diligently noting down every detail on Ezra's chart, quizzed the doctors and even had them write some of the more unintelligible words for him. All this was necessary because Nathan demanded to know every little detail. Ezra's progress was mixed. The head injury was progressing well, there was no further bleeding, thus no more pressure on his brain and the surgery sight was healing well. The fractured bones in his pelvis remained stable, but the underlying bleeding hadn't stopped. He wasn't bleeding out, but the internal injury hadn't healed the way the doctors had hopped.
"There is nothing for it," Doctor Marshall told him, "He'll have to have more surgery, we can't keep transfusing him and he's getting weaker."
Chris was well aware it was risky, but there was nothing else they could do. The same day Ezra was to have his surgery, DC Catt dropped by to give him an up date. Ezra's clothes told them nothing new. The video images had been enhanced, they now knew that the car had been a black four by four, probably as Range Rover or Land Rover. They couldn't make out any of the number plate but they had seen something that would help narrow their search.
"Not that it is going to help us much even if we do find it," Catt told Chris with evident frustration.
"I don't get it, why not?" Chris asked.
The detective handed him a blow up from the video. "Know what that is?"
Chris studied the picture. "Fuck!" he exclaimed.
The picture showed a small oval disc attached to the back bumper of a car, a small white oval with the letters 'CD' on it. The car that hit Ezra had diplomatic immunity.
"We can check all cars registered with 'CD' plates. We can check the traffic cameras in the area and most likely pick it up leaving the area, but even if we identify it, there isn't a damn thing we can do about it, we can't even impound it and examine it."
"Why? Why the hell would a diplomat want to kill Ezra?"
Catt shrugged. "No idea, I was hoping you could tell me."
"Ezra used to work here, in London, he was in the City, I'm not sure what he did exactly."
"Do you know why he left?"
Chris hesitated, he had some knowledge of Ezra's past troubles, but they were sketchy at best. "You ever heard of the Thornton-Rounbush case? It was something to do with insider trading."
Catt shook his head. "I'm C.I.D. not fraud squad, all that high finance stuff is Greek to me."
"Me too," Chris admitted. "But some how Ezra got implicated, he didn't do anything wrong, all the charges were dropped, but it ended his carrier."
Catt made a note of this information. "I'll make some enquires."
Chris had been very careful not to pry into Ezra's life while staying in his London home. It wasn't difficult, since there was very little in the place. After his discussion with Catt about the old fraud case, Chris had decided to brake his self-imposed rules and take a look at Ezra's personal papers. The trouble was he couldnt, it turned out Ezra was the cautious kind, his brief case desk draws were locked, his lap top password protected. Despite this his curiosity was now piqued. It didn't take long to locate a sauce of information on the case and the next morning he set out early to do some research before returning to the hospital at two.
Ezra hadn't been aware of much after he lost consciousness at the first hospital, now he began to struggle back to the world. All he was aware of was pain, so much pain, his head felt as if it was about to explode. He was fairly sure his head would hurt less if there were less noise. To be fair the noises weren't that loud, mostly they were muffled and distant, but they still hurt his head.
"Mr Larabee," one of the nurses greeted Chris as he entered the ICU. "Ezra's been showing signs of raised consciousness, they've taken him of the ventilator. The doctors want you to talk to him as much as possible."
Talking wasn't something Chris was generally good at, at least not talking for talking's sake, non the less he did his best.
"Hello mate," he greeted. "I know you love your bed, believe me we all know it, but this isn't your bed - actually I'm sleeping in your bed - and even for you, four days is a bit long. What I'm saying is, time to get up man! Come on, I hate bloody London, so just wake up now and we can both go home."
Ezra moved, his head turned toward Chris, but his eyes remained closed.
"See, I knew you could hear me. Come on, you're giving the idle rich a bad name."
But I don't want to get up, my head hurts. Ezra had made out that the voice he could hear was telling him to get out of bed. In truth, until then he hadn't registered that he was in bed. I'm in excruciating pain, I'm in a bed, but it's not mine and someone want's me to wake up - who? Why?
"Come on Ezra, come back to us."
That voice is very familiar. Who takes care of me when I'm hurt? Mother? Don't be stupid Ezra. Nathan? Who's Nathan, do I know a Nathan? Yes, big, black, doctor, friend.
"Come on, wake up and I'll stand you a pint."
Okay, not Nathan. Who do I know who likes to drink pints? Buck, big, friendly, publican, loud.
"Not exactly, but that'll do, come, open your eye's, how often to I have to tell you?"
He isn't very sympathetic and he'd really, really bossy.
"Come on Ezra, open your eyes."
Okay, okay, just stop shouting.
"There you are, nice to see you again."
Oh, ouch! "Bright."
As he lay there he could hear someone move a chair back and then foot steps. "Come on Ez, I dimmed the lights, open your eyes again."
Don't want to.
"I know you can hear me, you have that look on your face. Now stop being petulant and open you eyes."
Chris all but held his breath as Ezra's eyelids fluttered, well aware that Dr Marshall and a nurse were standing at the end of the bed. Finally he was looking into Ezra somewhat bleary, green eyes.
"Hey there," Chris greeted.
"Hello," Ezra responded, moving his eyes left and right, before refocusing on Chris.
"You're in a hospital," Chris supplied.
"I'm going to let the doctor have a look at you now, okay?"
Ezra just gave him a pained expression, as Chris stood back.
Chris waited as patiently as he could, pacing up and down by the nurse's desk. It took a while or possibly it didn't, it just felt as if it did. Finally Marshall came over and he was smiling.
"Well?" Chris asked.
"He's doing remarkably well, considering. There is some weakness on the left side, which I was expecting, and it should be temporary, but other than that he doesnt seem to have any significant brain injury; other than some short-term memory loss. We will have to do more tests and scans of course, but it's looking very good so far - better than I was hoping for."
"Memory loss?" Chris asked, picking up on the one negative he'd heard.
"He has no memory of the accident."
"Well that's quite common after a head injury - right? I mean, I've been concussed, I lost a whole day."
"That is true, although Mr Standish seems to have lost at least the whole of his trip to London, I don't know how long that is?"
"Um, well, he left town on Wednesday evening, the accident was Friday night, so he's only lost two days. That's not so bad - right?"
The doctor looked back at his patient. "If that's all he's missing, no not too bad."
"Will he ever remember those missing days - I know I never have."
"Hard to say, but it's possible he may never remember any of it."
"How very convenient."
Both men turned to find themselves facing two strangers. The speaker was a tall, slim, black woman, who looked to be in her mid forties. Beside this woman was a younger man, his dark blond hair was slicked back, his eyes hidden behind slightly tinted glasses. Both wore expensive looking suits. The woman held out her identity badge.
"I'm Detective Chief Inspector Jones, this is DI Peters, we're from the fraud squad."
Jones glanced at the doctor then looked Chris up and down. "You must be the friend from Cornwall."
Chris just glared at her. He might not know all the ins and outs of Ezra's past problems in the City, but he knew enough to know the Fraud Squad had to have been part of it, and not a good part.
"So, tell me Mr ?"
"Larabee," Chris supplied.
"Just what do you do, down in deepest Cornwall?"
"Well, Ms Jones, when I'm not farming, I'm coxswain of the Lifeboat." He'd never bragged about his status, he'd never used it to get so much as a free drink - he could have got a lot of free drinks with it if he'd been so inclined - but this woman just needed to be put in her place, somehow."
"Am I meant to be impressed?" she asked.
"I sure the hell am," the doctor told her, "and before you ask, no you can't talk to my patient, not today, not tomorrow."
Jones opened her mouth.
"I am a doctor, this is a hospital and if I say no, end of story - got it?" Marshall had now made eye contact and he wasn't letting it go.
Chris smiled, he knew he liked Marshall, now he knew why.
"Very well, I'll have Peters call tomorrow, for a progress report - alright?"
Marshall glanced at the DI "Fine," he conceded. "Now I have other patients to see to." He turned to Chris. "You can go back in anytime, but he'll most likely be asleep."
Once he was gone Jones turned her attention to Chris. "Do you know what Mr Standish was doing here in town?"
"Not a clue. And, in answer to your next question, no I have no knowledge of his business dealings past or present."
"Really?" Peters asked, his heavy Essex accent dripping with sarcasm.
"I told you, I'm just a farmer."
"But you do know that Mr Standish is a person of interest to us?" Jones prompted.
"I know he was falsely accused of insider trading."
"I though you had no knowledge of his business dealings," Peters challenged.
"I don't, that is as much as I know."
"So how do you know he was innocent?"
"Because Ezra told us he was, and I believe him."
"The charges were dropped, the case remains open," Jones told him pointedly.
"Well, you two are free to knock yourselves out trying to find out how one lot of rich bastards fleeced another lot of rich bastards, but you aren't going to prove Ezra did anything wrong, because he didn't."
"You seem very sure of that."
"When you put your life in another man's hands, you tend to trust him - of course if you two were real coppers and not just pencil pushing, bean counting, desk jockeys, you'd know that. There is something you may want to consider though."
"And what is that?" Jones asked, barely controlling her temper.
"If someone really did try to kill Ezra, what happens if they find out he's not dead?"
With that Chris pushed past them and back into the ICU, were, as Marshall had told him, Ezra was sleeping, blissfully unaware of the gathering storm around him.
It was another day and a half before Ezra was awake often enough and long enough to be really aware of much and able to hold any kind of conversation. On the third day after he regained consciousness, he was moved to a normal ward.
That day Chris arrived promptly at two - as usual - to find Ezra looking decidedly unhappy.
"This," Ezra pointed to the four other beds in the ward bay. "I have private medical insurance. I have asked them to transfer me to a private facility in Cornwall."
"Apparently I will not be stable enough to be transferred for some days."
Chris tended to forget Ezra was a wealthy man, a very wealthy man. It hadn't occurred him that he'd be used to private medical care, after all Nathan was his doctor and he was just an ordinary NHS GP. Now that he thought about it, since Four Corners was blessed with a really good NHS. dentist, Ezra was the only person he knew with any kind medical insurance or at least, the only person that he was aware of.
"How many days?"
"He won't say, less than five, he thinks."
"Well that's good, right?"
Ezra just scowled at the other people in the ward.
"You know, for most of us, this is normal - for a hospital, all we care about is getting better," Chris pointed out.
Ezra gave him a pitying look. "That is just because you don't know any better."
Chris was about to give Ezra an ear full about being a snob, when he noticed the colour drain from his face - and there had been little colour there to begin with - as his head rested back on the pillow. "Push the button." The only response was a questioning groan. "On your morphine pump." Chris placed the simple controller in Ezra's hand. "Remember?"
Ezra pressed the button and then relaxed, Chris knew he'd be asleep again very soon. The doctor had told him while the pain from the abdominal surgery had to be considerable, it would pale into insignificance compared to the headache his friend would have for sometime. Settling down in the surprisingly comfortable high back chair by the bed, he pulled out the book he'd borrowed from Ezra's small library in the flat.
He was about six pages in, when he heard a familiar voice.
"That's a good book."
Chris looked up, surprised to find Ezra, awake and looking at him.
"I thought you'd gone to sleep."
"I was asleep all morning, I couldn't sleep now if I tried." Chris nodded and put the book down. "Why are you still here?"
"Because visiting hours only started half an hour ago?"
"That is not what I meant. Why are you still in London, don't you have a flock to see to?"
Chris smiled. "It's quiet this time of year, Vin and Buck are helping Harry take care of things."
"What about the boat? They need you, especially with me incarcerated here. They're already short handed, someone will be pulling double shifts."
"No one minds, you've done it for them plenty of times. Besides, in case you haven't noticed, Buck is a very good skipper, when he needs to be."
'When he needs to be', as opposed to 'when he wants to be', the use of words was not lost on Ezra. Buck was a good helmsman, possibly better then Chris, but he wasn't a natural leader, he could command if called upon to do so, but most of the time he was content to let others do the leading and make the decisions.
"Ezra?" Chris voice pulled him back to the present.
"There is something I need to tell you there were two officers from the Fraud Squad here, they want to talk to you. For now the doctor's holding them off, but he wont be able to do that for much longer."
Ezra fought the urge to swear as he forced his expression to remain neutral.
"Ezra? Did you hear me?" Chris prompted.
When no more information or reaction was forthcoming, Chris pressed harder. "They say you are 'person of interest' to them, I guess that's because of what happened "
Ezra wasn't sure how much Chris knew of his past. Clearly, since he had say in who joined the crew, he'd seen his application, C.V. and - most significantly - his police background check, he must know the basic facts, or lies, depending on what really was on his police record. He was too tired and in too much pain to try to be subtle.
"What do you know?" he asked.
"Not much," Chris admitted. "You used to work for Lytton's Bank, can't say as I've ever heard of them."
"Have you heard of Coutts?"
"Sure, posh bank, the Queen banks there."
"Lytton's is very similar."
Chris nodded his understanding. "You were accused of passing information about a business deal you were working on. The person you supposedly told then used the information to buy shares just before the price went up."
"Giles Halsay, he's a rich man, old money, but he's increased the family's wealth considerably by investing shrewdly on the stock market. Halsay was known as cautious man, not one to take a risk. Buying Thornoton-Roundbush - it's a mining corporation - shares at that time was very risky - unless you knew they were about to land a huge contract in the Caribbean to mine bauxite. I was part of the team negotiating that contract and I was a friend of the Halsay family. Julian - Giles' youngest son - and I, were at Eton together, we were good friends, I even spent some holidays at their house."
"So the police and the City assumed you were the leak."
"I didn "
"Ezra," Chris cut in sternly. "I know you didn't do it, if I had any doubts on that score you wouldn't be on my crew - clear?"
"Thank you for your faith. Unfortunately the City isn't you. Once my name was linked with insider trading I was as good as dead - metaphorically - and when they brought charges I was basically tried and convicted. The City, and banks like Lytton's in particular, work on trust; they lost all trust in me."
"So why are the police still interested in you?"
"They are convinced of my guilt and so have stopped looking for the real culprit. The Fraud Squad have had some very public and spectacular failures of late, they need a successful case, something big, something in the public eye and in me they smell an easy kill."
"The real question is, why did someone try to kill you for real."
Ezra stared at Chris. "Kill me for real? What the hell is that meant to mean?" he demanded.
Now it was Chris who blanched. "I I though I told you, I know I told you."
"No, I think I'd remember something like that."
"I guess you were more out of it then I had though - sorry."
Chris took a deep breath. "There's CCTV footage, it shows a partial view of the accident. According to the police, it shows the car driving straight at you, it doesnt brake or swerve in any way. It could just be the driver was drunk or high or something or "
"It was deliberate," Ezra realised.
"You can't see much of the car, no number plate, but it looks like it was a black 4 X 4, with CD plates."
Ezra stared at him for what seemed like ages. "CD plates?"
Chris nodded. "Can you tell me what you were doing up here?"
Ezra frowned, then shook his head. "I presume it was something to do with business, but what, I can't remember."
"Anything about embassies or foreign travel?" Chris tried.
"What if I brought you your papers and laptop?"
Ezra had been lying back with is eyes closed; now he turned to look at Chris. "Papers?"
"Look I should have told you, I should have asked." Chris looked apologetic. "I've been staying at your place." He confessed. "I took the keys from your personal possessions. I hope you don't mind?"
"I have always said any of you can us the flat any time you are in town," Ezra reminded. "What of my papers?"
"I don't know, the brief case is locked, the laptop is password protected."
For a few moments Ezra didn't react, then he nodded. "Bring them." With that he once more rested back into the pillows and closed his eyes.
"Oh no," Chris suddenly said.
"What?" Ezra asked, with out opening his eyes.
"Flat footed bean counters at six o'clock."
"Forget that for a game of soldiers! Tell them I'm asleep."
"Drugged to the eyeballs and not likely to wake for hours."
Chief Inspector Jones didn't like it, but she had to accept that would be at least another day before she could speak to her number one suspect. To make the lie that Ezra was in a deep, drug induced sleep, believable; Chris left the ward and headed back to the flat.
Ezra lay there, plagued by a headache the pain medication was only taking the edge off and a nagging ache in and around his pelvis that stabbed at him every time he moved, all too aware there were tubes in him in places he didn't want to think about, but what really kept him awake was Chris' confession that he had tried to open not only his briefcase, but also his laptop. He really didn't mind that Chris was living in his flat, it wasn't his home in any sense of the word, it was just a place he owned and used when he visited London. He was happy for others to use it when he didn't need it. They were even useful, to the casual observer it seemed that the place was lived in, it kept it aired and made it easier to insure. That while he was there, someone he called friend had tried to read his personal papers hurt. He'd been betrayed and his trust, friendship and even his love abused and used before and it hurt.
He had thought the friend's he'd made in Cornwall were different. He had though they had no interest in money, in what he could tell them, in how much money he could make them or how much they could make off him. He had put more than his physical life in their hands and thought himself safe - had he been wrong?
As he lay there, in pain, the more he thought about it, the more it wasn't a black and white issue. Chris was here, in London - which he hated - with him, why? He wasn't a child; he didn't need his hand held. Chris was his commander and he knew that Chris took his responsibility for his crew very seriously. More than that Chris was his friend. If it were Buck, laid up in a London hospital, he'd expect Chris to stay with him and while he wasn't putting him self in the same class of friendship as Wilmington, he was a friend. That was quite some realisation.
That Buck was his friend and would go to bat for him was a given, Buck was that kind of person, loyalty was the lynch pin of his very being. JD too, he was like an eager puppy, always wanting to please and since he lived with Wilmington he was picking up the big man's ways. Josiah was a priest, so it was his job to care and stick by people, the same went for Dr Jackson. Vin? Well that was a different story. He was more reserved - unless you got him drunk - and Ezra was fairly sure the young man had some inner demons, demons that needed exorcising, though he had no idea what they were. What ever they were, Vin had trust issues, and that was something he could relate to, yet he trusted Vin not to hurt him. That left Chris. Larabee had weathered the kind of personal storm that killed lesser men, true he put much of his survival down to Buck and his loyalty, but Ezra didn't buy that. He didn't doubt Buck stood by him, but he'd seen enough men fall into black holes to know you only climbed out, with or with out a helping hand, if you wanted to. How would Chris react to the revelation that someone had tried to kill his friend? He'd need to do something about it. Chris was proactive, he didn't sit around and wait for things to happen, he went out and made them happen.
Now he knew why Chris had attempted to violate his privacy, it was the way the man was made. To thine own self be true.
When Chris returned in the evening, he had the briefcase and laptop with him. He just hoped Ezra's memory loss didn't extend to the password and combination code. He walked back in just after five thirty, he found Ezra sitting up and frowning at the tray of food in front of him.
"Problem?" he asked as he sat down.
"They called it lasagna, but I have my doubts, besides it's cold." With that he pushed the tray away from him, apparently no more interested in the garlic bread, side salad and pot of yoghurt than he was the congealed mass that was the lasagna.
"Have a chocolate or a biscuit," Chris suggested. Ezra's bed was surrounded by cards, balloons and gifts, all sent from Cornwall. The nurses were particularly fond of the teddy bear in its little knitted lifeboat sweater, yellow souwester and raincoat. The nurses were also fond of the expensive chocolates and the box of Buck's home made chocolate chip, coconut cookies - Ezra's favourites.
"I'm sick of them."
"Not eating again Mr Standish?" a nurse asked as she stopped at the end of the bed.
"It wasn't cold when it was delivered, you should have eaten it sooner," she scolded.
Ezra rolled his eyes and then looked away. While he was 'ignoring' the nurse, Chris quietly stood and followed her.
"You said 'again'? Is he not eating?" he asked.
She glanced back at Ezra then back to Chris. "The doctor said he could have normal solid food yesterday, but so far all he's eaten is a little cereal in the morning."
"Weetabix, mushy - right?"
She smiled. "Right. He needs to start eating. I don't know if it's because he's afraid to - because of his injuries, or that he just hates the food."
"Probably the last one, Ezra's rather 'particular' about his food. I'll see what I can do."
Chris then returned to Ezra, gave him the laptop and briefcase and then left, telling him that he needed to run an errand. By the time he returned Ezra had the briefcase open on the table in front of him.
"Find anything?" he asked sitting down.
"Hum, apparently I have been in the process of acquiring an offshore bank account in the Caribbean and this weekend I signed the papers to open it."
"Well you haven't been to the Caribbean," Chris observed.
"No, I visited the Saint Lucas Embassy, at least that is where I assume I signed this." He handed Chris the document in question.
It was a fairly standard looking form, opening an account in the name of Ezra Patrick Standish with the 'Banco de Santo Lucas'. The signature was witnessed by one Juan Santos. Chris handed it back, asking Ezra if he could remember the meeting.
"And this man - Juan Santos?"
"He might as well be called John Smith," Ezra commented. "But no, the name means nothing to me, I can't even put a face to him. There is one thing though. There are several letters and e-mails from someone called Ana Navarro. In this e-mail, confirming an appointment for Friday morning she says 'I look forward to finally meeting you when I sign your bank contract as a witness'."
"But she didn't sign, this man Santos did," Chris frowned at the papers then handed them back to Ezra.
"And you can't remember why?"
"No, it is all very frustrating." With that Ezra let the papers drop and rested back against the pillows, automatically lifting his hand to his head, as if to rub away the pain, only to encounter the heavy dressing and pull his hand back. Without saying a word, Chris placed the papers back in the briefcase and pushed the table away. He then sat down and picked up his own book.
Chris wasn't sure if Ezra slept or just rested with his eyes closed, what ever it was he 'woke' when the man with oriental features, carrying a cool box and a large carrier bag, strolled into the ward.
"Mr Standish?" he asked the ward in general, in a broad cockney accent.
"Here," Chris responded, beckoning the young man over.
"Hi there," he greeted cheerfully, as Ezra opened one eyes and peered at him. "How ya doin'?"
"I've been better," Ezra muttered.
"Right, well this is for you." He put down the cool box he was carrying and rested the other bag he carried on the end of the bed. From this he produced two bowls, two pairs of chopsticks, two forks, two glasses, two linen napkins, a bottle of soy sauce and a bag of rice crackers. Finally he pulled out two cans of alcohol free lager. "Uncle said you probably wouldn't be allowed real booze - sorry."
"What's going on?" Ezra asked.
"My uncle sent this over for you." He began to unpack the cool box and place the foil cartons with card lids on the table. "He said any friend of Buck Wilmington was a friend of his, actually he said Buck was family so that would make his friends family as well. Anyway he said this is no charge; you're not even to give me a tip. So I don't want to hear any of that English 'Oh I couldn't possibly' and 'You shouldn't have' this is a matter of family honour." He looked up from his task, fixing each man with a meaningful look, before grinning and going back to work. "No tip is fine by me anyway, I had to come in a taxi to get all the way out here, which is way better than delivering on the moped to snotty actors at the back of theatres."
"Your uncle knows Buck?" Ezra asked.
"Of course, we, the family, we all owe Mr Wilmington, so it's a pleasure to be able to help him. Okay you're all set, beef in black bean sauce, lemon chicken, paper prawns, chicken and cashew nuts, sweet and sour wonton and special fried rice. Uncle was gonna send crispy duck but he thought it might be a bit complicated. Now anything you want, you call us." He handed over a business card for The Dragon Pagoda, a Chinese restaurant on Gerrard Street. "If you get sick of us there are these." He handed over a variety of take away menus for restaurants in and around Leicester Square, every kind of take away, from haute cuisine
to Pizza Express, there was even one from what looked to be a glorified greasy spoon. "Call the number on the back of the card and I'll bring you anything you want."
"Tell me again what is going on?" Ezra asked, even as he began to investigate the prawn crackers.
"Buck called my uncle, who I work for, an' he send me here, with all this food, for you, 'cause he owes your mate Buck, big time. Better go, enjoy." With that, he was gone.
"Sorry," Chris said.
"Why are you sorry?"
"I called Buck and asked him if he knew any decent restaurants that would deliver to the hospital. He just said leave it to him. I had no idea this would be the result."
Ezra had pried the lid of the lemon chicken and pushed a finger into the sticky sauce then licked it. "Tastes good."
Chris pulled the lid of the beef. "Smells good too - wonder what Buck did for his uncle?"
"Or who his uncle is, we didn't get a name." Ezra picked up the card and turned it over but there was no name.
"Dose it matter?" Chris now had all the lids off and handed Ezra a fork - eating Chinese food with chopsticks in hospital was just too much like hard work.
With a decent meal inside him and a hefty dose of morphine, Ezra nodded off almost as soon as he put his fork down. Chris quietly cleared away the meal debris. He spoken to one of the nurses, asking her to assure Ezra when he woke that he had the laptop and briefcase, and would bring it back the next day.
"Oh and you better remind him to brush his teeth." He called as he headed out.
"Bye Chris," she called back. "See you tomorrow."
Ideally the doctors would have had Ezra up on his feet by now, but his damaged pelvis made that impossible, and with the surgery he'd undergone he couldn't even do aqua therapy. Lying in bed all day put him at risk from bedsores and pneumonia. To avoid this, the head of the bed was raised so that he as in a sitting position most of the time and even at night he wasn't permitted to lay completely flat. Under him there was an air flow mattress - a pad made up of hundreds of air filled tubes that were inflated and deflated by a pump on a continual basis creating a ripple effect, this guarded against pressure sores. Everyday the physical therapy and breathing therapy departments came to call. It wasn't a pleasant or comfortable process, but Ezra endured it stoically.
The doctors were for ever poking and prodding him, as far as Ezra was concerned they were over zealous in their testing and monitoring of him, but they assured him it was all necessary. When Chris arrived he found Ezra's bay empty, no Ezra, no bed.
"They took him down for a scan," on of the nurses told him.
"Right, mind if I wait?"
She shrugged. "Help yourself, you can wait with them." She gestured to the two people sitting in the patient's lounge.
Chris frowned; it was Jones and Peters. "Oh joy," he commented to himself sarcastically.
It was another half hour before Ezra was wheeled back in. The porter repositioned the bed and left without saying a word. Even as the bed was being pushed back, all three of Ezra's visitors had stood and moved toward the bed.
"He's asleep," the nurse told them. "Please don't wake him."
Chris smiled smugly as he took his place beside the bed, while the two police officers looked on disgruntled.
Jones turned to her subordinate. "Go and get us some coffee, we'll wait."
Chris sat down and looked over at Ezra, something told him something was wrong, but he couldn't work out what. He stood up. Ezra was breathing, he could see his chest move but it didn't seem right and then he noticed that his lips looked grey, almost blue. In a flash he'd pressed the call button and was shouting for help all at the same time.
"Ezra!" he called desperately. "Wake up!" He shook him. "WAKE UP!" Nurses and a junior doctor were now arriving, pushing him out of the way. "Something's wrong."
"Step back," the doctor told him firmly.
"What's wrong?" Chris demanded.
"I don't know yet, just get back and let us work."
By now Jones was beside Chris. "What's the matter with him?"
"I don't know, his breathing suddenly sounded wrong somehow and his lips turned blue," Chris wasn't even aware who he was speaking to, his eyes remained locked on Ezra as the doctors placed a mask over his mouth and began to pump more oxygen into him.
"What's going on?" Chris demanded.
"Let's just let them work."
Chris turned to find Chief Inspector Jones standing beside him. "Why don't you give us space!" he growled threateningly.
"SHIT!" the doctor suddenly exclaimed.
Chris and the detective turned back in time to see him literally yank out one of Ezra's two IV's. Instantly blood began to flow freely.
"Come on people lets get this blood stopped." The doctor, who looked impossibly young to Chris, turned to the even younger doctor who had just arrived. "I need 1.2 milligrams of naloxone now!"
As the nurses worked to get the bleeding stopped the doctor stepped back.
"Tell me what's happening!" Chris demanded, resisting the urge to grab the man by the lapels and physically shake him.
"Somehow his morphine line was switched to direct flow, wide open. He's received a massive overdose."
"Which means?" Jones asked.
"If we don't get the antidote into him fast he'll stop breathing."
"How the hell did this happen?" Chris asked.
"It can't, I mean it did, but I don't know how. It was fine when he left here and there was no reason for anyone to touch it."
"The porter!" Chris suddenly exclaimed.
"What?" the doctor asked.
But Chris was already moving. "Where was he, for the scan?" he asked over his shoulder as he began to move toward the exit.
"Um er imaging."
By now Chris was running, with Jones following him. He didn't stop running until he reached the directory board by the lifts.
"What the hell is going on?" Jones demanded.
"I told you this could happen! Who ever tried to kill him with a car and failed has had another go. And if you lot had believed me or cared you might have prevented this! You should have put a guard on him - but no! You were so obsessed about nailing him for something he didn't do, you couldn't be bothered to find out what was really going on!"
The lift arrived and they both stepped inside.
Even as the doors were closing, Chris continued. "Believe me lady, cop or no cop, if you were a man I would deck you right now!"
"Oh please don't play the gallant for me, if I couldn't hold my own in a man's world I wouldn't be where I am now."
Chris forced himself not to take a swing at her right then and there. "If he dies, believe me, chivalry will not protect you."
The lift doors opened and they both exited, bumping shoulders as they pushed past the doors. As one they scanned the direction boards looking for the way to the imaging department. They set out down the corridor at a run, scattering people like Moses parting the Red Sea. Imaging wasn't what Chris had expected - not that he knew what he was expecting, but it wasn't what he found. Patients and their friends and relatives sat in a waiting area, some were clearly in-patients, but most looked like out patients. The reception desk was large and manned by two ladies who both looked like the archetypal grandmother.
Everyone turned to look at Chris and DI Jones as they charged in and then suddenly slid to a halt on the shiny floor. Taking a moment to gather himself, Chris ran over to the desk, jumping the line of about four people trying to book in for their scan or X-ray.
"There is a queue you know?" One indignant woman commented very loudly.
Jones pulled out her Warrant Card. "Police emergency."
Now the line and all the patients were agog with curiosity, things like this just didn't happen in the quiet and controlled world of the imaging department, all the excitement was meant to be down in A&E.
"You had a patient here, Ezra P Standish, from Frobisher Ward, we need to know who took him back to the ward?" Chris asked the startled woman at the desk.
She looked at Chris, she looked at the policewoman standing beside him. "Right, go through those doors, tell them Evelyn sent you and you need to speak to Ravi. He'll know who it was." She pointed to the swing doors behind the desk.
"Thanks!" Chris called as he set out, Jones still in tow.
It didn't take them long to locate Ravi, a Sikh man of about six foot two, with an impressively long salt and pepper beard, and a striking royal blue turban. He was wearing the same bottle green polo shirt all the porters wore, but his name badge identified him as a 'patient services coordinator'. Chris repeated his request. Ravi it seemed didn't even need to see a Warrant Card; Evelyn's word was good enough for him. He pulled out a clipboard.
"That was Ben Russell," he informed them.
"Where is he now?" Chris asked.
"Right over there." Ravi pointed down the corridor they were standing in, a man had just come thought the door at the far end. "Hey Ben, come here, these people are looking for you!" he shouted.
Chris expected the man to turn and run, but instead he just began to amble toward them. He was young, Chris guess his age to be around mid twenties, with had dark blond hair, which stuck up on top like a hedgehog.
"Are you the porter who took Mr Standish back to Frobisher Ward?" DI Jones asked.
"Why?" Russell asked defensively.
"Why? I'll tell you why, because someone tried to kill him, that's way!" she told him.
"What?" Russell spluttered. "No way! I didn't touch him."
"No he didn't," Chris pointed out.
"And you are so sure about this because ?"
"The guy who brought Ez back was black - or didn't you notice?"
Jones' mouth dropped open for a second or who. "Damn he was wasn't he." She turned back to Russell. "So if you left with him, who delivered him?" she asked.
"Very good question," Ravi asked.
"I met this bloke by the lifts, he said he was going up and he'd take the guy. I mean, he was asleep, he wasn't gonna know." He looked at his supervisor's expression of disapproval. "Don't give me that boss, we all do it and you know it."
"Who was it?" Ravi asked.
"I dont know, I never met him before, I assumed he was a new guy. I mean people come and go around here so fast, who can keep track?"
Chris looked at Ravi. "That true?"
"Sadly yes, its a hard job, the hours are long and the pay's lousy."
"Can you describe him?" Chris asked.
"Black, 'bout my height, sort of thick, you know - not fat, not thin, just solid."
The young man shrugged. "Older than me, but not old, I don't know."
"What about accent?" Jones asked.
"Sounded Jamaican, but not like you hear on the street, you know, more educated."
"How hard would it be to get one of your uniform shirts?" Chris asked.
Ravi shrugged, "I'm not sure, there's a supply down behind the head porter's office, but it's hardly high security."
Chris looked up at the ceiling. "From where you left him to the ward, are there any security cameras?" he asked Russell.
"Sure, I mean I guess, they're everywhere."
Ravi took them to the security office. It didn't take long to identify the relevant camera and scroll back to the right moment in the recording. The camera outside the lifts had recorded Russell arriving with Ezra, as he had stated, Ezra seemed to be sleeping, although Chris suspected he was faking it. Hospital porters were like barbers and taxi drivers, they felt a need to talk, to engage their 'customer' in conversation, Ezra hated that, yes the more Chris thought of it, he was sure Ezra was lying doggo. A second man in a porter's shirt approached, the two men had a brief conversation and Russell left, so far his story had been corroborated. They followed the man and Ezra as they rode up in the lift and as they set out along the corridor toward the ward. Not once was there a shot of the man's face. Other than he was black, had short hair and was solidly built; they knew nothing about him.
"Damn!" Jones swore.
"He knew what he was doing, knew were the cameras were, knew how to avoid being seen," Chris commented before he turned on Jones. "He failed the first time, you better pray he's failed this time!"
"We have no proof it's the same person, we dont even know that the accident was any more than that - an accident."
Chris was already heading for the door. "Oh come on, wake up woman, of course it's the same bloody person! I warned you this might happen, but you wouldn't listen. So now it's time to get on the phone and get someone down here who knows what to do!"
"How dare you "
"How dare I? I should have made damn sure you were replaced as soon as we know it wasn't an accident. You're Fraud Squad, a bloody number cruncher who shuffles papers! What the hell would you know about a murder investigation?"
"It better be attempted, it fucking well better be!"
By now they were back at the lifts. Once they were heading back up, Jones turned to Chris.
"Look I'm not saying Mr Standish isn't still a suspect in a major insider trading investigation, he is - but that doesnt mean I want him dead or I'm going to let any one get way with attempted murder. I am still a copper and - for your information - before I was seconded to fraud I was on the serious crime squad - believe me, I've investigated my share of murders and attempted murders."
Chris didn't have time to respond, as they arrived at their destination and he was out and running down the corridor, desperate to get back to the ward and see how Ezra was. The sight that greeted him when he made it back made his heart sink. Where Ezra's bed had been, now there was just an empty bay. Chris spun around, desperately searching for Ezra.
"What the hell?" he asked out loud, to no one in particular, "where is he?" By now he was shouting.
DI Peters came in, still holding two cups of coffee. "You're looking for Mr Standish?" he asked
"Well of course I am! You moron!" Chris rounded on him. "What happened?"
As Chris advanced, Peters backed up until he backed into his boss, causing him to spill the coffee.
"Answer the man Peters," she told him.
"Oh, they took him to Intensive Care, at least that's what I heard."
Chris was already heading back out, asking the first member of staff he encountered where to find intensive care.
"Should I go with him?" Peters asked.
Jones watched Larabee for a second, then turned to her subordinate. "No, we've got work to do. Get on to the office and have them find the guy from traffic who dealt with the first accident. Then get down to the security office, follow Standish as he came up from Imaging and then see if you can track the second porter, the one who brought him in here, we need to find out where he went and see if you can get a shot of his face."
"You now, Ma'am, if this guy is a diplomat, you know what that means - don't you."
"Which means "
"We might as well cease to exist." Jones took a long breath. "God I hate cases with the Specials. Which is why we need to get it sorted before they get a whiff of it."
Chris almost charged into ICU, only pulling up and walking when he reached the doors. As he did he met one of the nurses from Frobisher ward coming out.
"Mr Larabee, I was just coming to look for you."
"Where is he, his he okay?" Chris asked.
She smiled. "They brought him down here just in case they need to intubate him, but he's responding well, breathing on his own with only minimal support."
Chris visibly relaxed. "Can I see him?"
"Sure, come with me."
They met up with one of the doctors at Ezra's bedside. He assured them the oxygen mask wouldn't be needed for too much longer.
"He really is doing very well, considering what a close call he had."
Chris nodded his understanding as he watched his friend. He looked a little pale, but other than that he didn't look much different.
"He's still unconscious?" he asked.
"No, just asleep, with that much morphine in his system, it's unavoidable."
"But he's going to be okay?"
"There's no guarantees, that's why we brought him down here, just to be on the safe side. But so far it's looking good."
"Thank God. Can I stay with him?"
Chris was still beside Ezra two hours later when Jones made an appearance. "They tell me he's doing okay."
Chris bit back an urge to say 'no thanks to you'. "Yeah," he finally responded tersely.
"I'm making arrangements for a police guard."
Chris looked over at Ezra and then back at her, he wanted to say 'about time' but right now it was more important to keep Ezra safe, and that meant co-operating with the police not antagonising them - too much. "What if he wasn't here? Would it be easier if he was in a private room?"
"Are they planning to move him?"
"Not yet, but as he is due to be transferred to a private hospital in Cornwall next week, they might let him move sooner, if it was only across London."
"Well if the doctor agrees, and the new hospital agrees, then sure - it would make our job much easier."
Ezra was still somewhat groggy and still on oxygen when he was transferred to the Wellington, one of London's premier private hospitals. They hadn't been too keen on accepting a patient who was going to need a police guard, but were placated by a promise that the policeman would be in plain clothes. That way he'd fit in with all the other bodyguards lurking around outside the rooms of Saudi princesses and Russian Mafia bosses. Three days after the poisoning, Ezra woke up with a clear head in his private room, which came with its own bathroom, satellite TV, Internet and on demand room service.
"I see what you mean, about private medicine," Chris commented, while sipping his cappuccino.
"Yeah, well, it's nice for those of you who can afford it."
"True." Ezra looked up. "I remembered something."
"About the guy who tried to kill you?"
"No, as I told that very annoying woman from the police, one minute I'm on my way back to the ward, pretending to sleep and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in the ICU with a mask on my face. No I remembered something about the embassy. The woman I had been corresponding with was pregnant; when I got to there, they told me she had gone into premature labour and was in hospital. I was directed to another office, where some other official would act as witness."
"Can you remember what he looked like?"
Ezra shrugged. "Black, medium height, heavy set, clean shaven."
"Well that fits the description of the man who tried kill you."
"I know, the problem is that it also fits who knows how many other Afro-Caribbean men in London. Besides why would he want to kill me? I never met the man before that day."
Chris was sure it had to be connected to the Thornton-Roundbush case, and he was about to ask him about it, when he noticed Ezra had rested his head back and closed his eyes. The big bandages and dressings on his head were a thing of the past; all he had to show for his neuro-surgery now, was a patch of shaved scalp and a row of stitches behind his ear. It made is easy to forget just how serious his injures were and how much pain he was still in. The doctors had warned him, Ezra would have a killer headache for days, maybe even weeks, and that wasn't even taking into account his fractured pelvis and internal injuries.
"I'm going to leave you to rest, it's been a long day."
Ezra nodded slightly.
Outside the room, Chris checked in with Ezra's current guard, PC Harman. "He's sleeping, so I'll see you later."
"Righty ho sir. The boss asked you to call here, when you had the chance. Dont worry about Mr Standish, I'll keep him safe while you're away."
"I know you will."
Chris grinned, Harman was small, for a policeman, shorter than most and slightly built, but Jones had assured him that he was one of the best close protection officers they had. 'The man has more black belts than a zebra,' she had told him confidently.
Jones wanted to update him on her progress. As Chris had suspected, the Saint Lucas Embassy owned a black Range Rover. Traffic cameras had picked it up several times on the night Ezra was hit at about the right time. Juan Santos was listed as a trade secretary. From his picture, he was a middle aged black man of stocky build.
"The trouble is, according to the doctors, changing that morphine line is not something a lay person can do, you need to be a nurse or a doctor. He's a trade official, a negotiator, a deal maker, where would he get medical training?"
"Can you look into his background?" Chris asked.
"We've contacted the Foreign Office, but when it's diplomats it all gets complicated. Oh and don't hold your breath. The Foreign Office consider such requests to be very low priority, compared to high diplomacy and the great affairs of state."
Chris finished his conversation with Jones and redialed.
"He'o?" came the muffled reply.
"Vin, is that you?"
"Haw Cwis." Vin was house, dog and horse sitting for Chris.
"What are you eating?"
"A Mag'um sorry about that, a Magnum - did you know you got a whole box of them in your freezer, the mint ones?"
"Yes, I do actually know what food I buy. Why are you eating them, it's the middle of winter?"
"Toasty warm in your kitchen man."
"So how come mint, I thought you don't like the mint ones, were you hiding them from me?"
"Well if I did like them, I'd have to hide them from you! But as it happens, they're for Casey, they're her favourite."
"I know, I'm sure she'll share. Look, when I get home, is there actually going to be in any food left in my freezer?"
"Sure; if you get back tomorrow."
"Where the hell do you put it all?"
"Told you, I'm a "
"Growing boy, I know."
"Buck called just a while ago, said you and Ezra had some excitement but he was doing okay?"
"Doctors are pleased with him."
"Bet Ezra's not pleased."
"No bet. Look I need a favour."
"Sure thing, whatever you guys need."
"Can you go to my office?"
Chris heard Vin get up and head through the house to the small study at the front.
"Did Buck say anything about me calling him and food?" Chris asked.
"Nothing." Chris shook his head, typical Buck, he'd move heaven and earth to help a friend and never say a word.
"Okay, I'm here, what do you need?" Vin announced.
That evening Chris put his feet up on Ezra's tasteful and no doubt expensive coffee table and tried to watch a film, but he couldn't seem to follow the plot, and since it stared Bruce Willis there wasn't a lot of plot to follow. He normally fell asleep in front of the TV, but for some reason his brain refused to shut down, something was nagging at the back of his mind.
Finally he got up and went over to the table. It seemed so long ago now, but he had done some research on the Thornoton-Roundbush case. He'd managed to locate a good deal of information in the Financial Times archives and had taken copies of much of it. Now he picked up the mountain of A4 photocopies and began to read.
In the morning he set out for Companies House, there was one piece of information he needed. He wasn't sure what it was going to prove, but it would explain a lot, even if it didn't prove anything. It took much longer than he had anticipated. By the time he got to the hospital it was nearly five. Harman was outside the room. For a moment Chris thought the poor man had been there since he left, then it occurred to him that he'd been way almost twenty four hours, Harman had done one shift and was now back.
"Feel like you've never been away?" the PC asked.
"How did you know?"
"You have the look." Chris must have looked puzzled. "This isn't my first stint outside a hospital room," Harman explained. "Miss Jones is in there."
Chris nodded his understanding before walking in, without bothering to knock.
"Mr Larabee, how nice of you to join us," Jones greeted. "We have news."
"Really, so do I."
"What is it?"
"Excuse me!" Ezra snapped. "My head is pounding, it feels like Vin and JD are in there on a chocolate and sugar high! Added to the fact that my pelvis feels like Buck just tackled me on to a frozen pitch. So, if you two don't mind! Could we concentrate on finding out who is trying to kill me and not which one of you is the Alpha Male around here!" He turned to Jones. "And by the way, even if you had the right plumbing, he's still the only Alpha in this room, so stop trying to be top dog and get on with your job."
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Chris smiled at Jones. "You first."
Both men could see she was about to say something, but then thought better of it. "Okay, don't ask me how or why, but the FO got straight on to our request and guess what? Juan Santos did his compulsory military service in the medical corps."
"So he does know how to tamper with a morphine line," Chris realised.
"Quite probably, but that doesnt mean he did. After all, we have no proof he was even in the hospital, we can't actually prove it was the Embassy Range Rover that hit you and we still have no motive."
"Well, I might just be able to help you with that," Chris announced.
Chris was feeling rather pleased with himself, Buck wasn't the only one with contacts in London. While he was doing voluntary service in Africa he'd saved the life of a junior diplomat called Angus Frazer. Frazer had been driving his Land Rover like the Africa rookie he was and hit a pothole. When Chris had found him he'd been pinned under the overturned vehicle for over four hours, and the vultures were already circling. After he recovered, Angus had become good friends with Chris. These days he was a Principal Secretary at the Foreign Office, and once Vin had retrieved his home number from Chris' address book, it was just a matter of a phone call, and one of several favours Frazer owed Chris was paid back.
"I did some checking of my own. Something you said about Santos being a negotiator. I went back into the Thornton-Roundbush case, and I found out that he was employed by them, as a consultant in 'Caribbean business practices'."
"And just were did you find this out from?" Jones asked. "Mr Standish's own files perhaps?"
"No, at Companies House, Thornton-Roundbush is a public company, its accounts are a matter of public record, it was all there in black and white for anyone who cared to look deep enough."
"Looking in records, isn't that what you're paid to do?" Ezra asked detective.
"This whole thing keeps coming back to that case." Chris looked at the man in the hospital bed. "You must know something, something he would kill to protect."
"Well if I do, I've forgotten it."
Jones snorted. "Or you just don't want to admit in front of me."
"Dear lady, I may have gaps in my short term memory, but I can assure you, I have nothing to hide - nothing."
Chris fixed her with a glare that - had it been lasers - would have melted Cornish granite in a second. "Just how many times does he have to say it, before you go looking for the real culprit - and right now I'd say Santos was in the frame, wouldn't you?"
Before another argument could begin, a doctor and nurse came in. "If you could give us some privacy?" the doctor addressed the two visitors.
"Of course," Jones responded curtly.
"I'll see you in a bit," Chris told Ezra.
"I'm not going anywhere," Ezra responded, then he looked at the doctor. "Am I?"
"No, not today."
"Oh well, then I will indeed see you soon."
Outside Jones turned to Chris. "I know he's your friend and I have to respect his service to the lifeboat, but do you really know Mr Standish?" she asked.
"I know him," Chris attested.
"Really? Did you know that back when he was a City high flyer he lived in a penthouse apartment over looking the river? He drove a Porsche, belonged to the most expensive City gym and one of the most exclusive Pall Mall clubs, he had - still has - accounts in Savile Row and Jermyn Street. He took his holidays in the Caribbean, went skiing in Aspen and Vail, spent weekends in Dubai, went out to dinner in Paris - from London! Do you have any idea what kind of avaricious, ruthless, moral vacuum you need to live and work in to make that much money, that fast, in this town?"
Chris had to admit to himself that, no he didn't. Making money for the sake of making money was something he'd never understood.
"And suddenly he is out, black balled, persona non grata. The City exists to make money; they don't cast out a cash cow like Mr Standish without good reason. He was the poster boy for 'greed is good' and then suddenly he's out and living in Cornwall - of all places. This man, who has never given anything to charity in his life, suddenly declares a two million pound charity donation as a tax write off? These are not the actions of an innocent man."
Chris looked at her and then he smiled, and the smile became a grin and the grin spread and threatened to split his face. "He made a two million quid charity donation?"
Chris turned on his heels and wagged a finger at Ezra's closed hospital room door. "Why you slippery, sneaky, devil you! That is the dogs bollocks, a right proper job!" he exclaimed. "You think I don't know him! Oh yes I do! And I KNOW he is innocent. Ezra may be greedy and avaricious, but he is not unprincipled or immoral, quite the opposite. Juan Santos is your man, you may not have enough evidence to take him to court or what ever it is you do with diplomats, but you have a hell of a lot more against him than you ever had against Ezra!"
"Except there is no connection between Santos and Halsey," Jones pointed out.
"That you can find, and just how hard did you look?"
Suddenly the door opened and the doctor and the nurse hurried out.
"What's the matter?" Chris asked.
"Oh nothing, we just have to attend and urgent call!"
With that the two medics were gone, racing down the corridor, past the lift and into the emergency stairwell, just as several other members of staff appeared and followed them.
"Now that was odd," Harman commented, just as his radio beeped. "Hello? right understood, we'll stand by."
"And?" Jones urged.
"That was the hospital security office. The fire alarm just went off."
"I can't hear anything," Jones stated, somewhat redundantly.
"They never sound the general alarm until they verify the source. Evacuating a hospital is a nightmare and can prove fatal to some patients. So they don't do it unless they really need to, since most of the time it's a faulty smoke detector, a bit of burnt toast or some one having a sneaky ciggy. They'll let us know what's going on as soon as they know."
"Smells like a diversion to me," Chris commented.
"Me too," Harman agreed. "Ma'am, I recommend you head down to their security office and keep an eye on the cameras, Mr Larabee and I will watch Mr Standish."
She seemed to weigh up the situation, then nodded. "Very well."
Ezra knew something was wrong, when the beepers of both the doctor and the nurse went off simultaneously. Now he could smell smoke. That was bad, no two ways about it, smelling smoke in a hospital, is really, really bad, especially when you are still dependent on a wheelchair to get around.
He was about to press the call button when Chris came back in and announced. "We've got a situation."
"No kidding, I can smell it."
Chris frowned and took a deep breath. "Shit! It is real."
"What is real."
"Silent fire alarm just went off."
"What is the point of a silent fire alarm?"
Chris ignored him and ran back to the door. "Harman, we've got a strong smell of smoke here."
"Right, I'll tell security, you get the wheelchair."
The call to security was unnecessary, clearly their own procedures had detected the source of the smoke because at that moment alarm bells began ringing and fire doors swung shut.
With some difficulty they got Ezra into the wheelchair. It was a far from painless process and they were less than expert at arranging the IV line. By the time they were opening the door, smoke was clearly visible at ceiling level in the corridor. Staff were arriving to move patients. A porter ran up to them.
"I've come to get you out," he announced.
Harman showed the man his Warrant Card. "We've got it covered. Where's the assembly point?"
With that, the man ran to the next room. The corridor was quickly filling with staff, visitors, shuffling patients and wheelchairs. They were assured that the lifts were safe to use but there was a queue, so anyone who could walk, was directed to the stairs.
"I'm sorry, only wheelchairs and beds on the lift," the attendant informed Chris and Harman. "You gents need to use the stairs."
"I'm a police officer, this man is under my protection," Harman informed him.
"Is he dangerous?"
"Then I have to ask you to take the stairs - now."
Conceding defeat in the face of an emergency, the two men turned and headed for the stairs, determined to be on the ground floor before the lift. The trouble was the stairwell was crammed with people, some of them elderly and none too mobile. It took time to weave thought the crowed with out knocking anyone over. By the time the reached the lobby, which was in chaos - albeit organised chaos - there was no sign of Ezra and the lift was on its way back up to collect more patients.
Ezra wheeled himself out of the lift car and looked around for Chris or Harman. Unable to locate them he headed over to the doors. Ezra would be the first to admit he was no expert when it came to manoeuvring a wheelchair and it must have showed because someone came up behind him and took the handles of the chair.
"I have you sir, don't worry," they assured.
To Ezra it sounded like a woman, though he couldn't place the accent. He craned his head back to see that it was indeed a woman, in full Islamic black robes, only her eyes visible. Not that this was unusual, with so many Middle Eastern patients; Arab robes of all kinds were a common sigh in the hospital.
Once outside they headed toward the car park at the side of the main building, with the rest of the people. In the distance the two-tone wale of sirens could be heard. Ezra relaxed a little, sirens confirmed this was a real emergency, not that this was a good thing, but at least it wasn't aimed directly at him. The woman pushing his chair made a right turn, way from the staff with clipboards who were directing people.
"Excuse me, aren't we meant to be with them?" Ezra asked.
"Oh I don't think so." This was no feminine voice; this was a man's voice, a man with a Caribbean accent.
In an instant, Ezra reached out and pulled on the brake.
"No you don't!" The man, presumably Santos, kicked out and released the brake, only just missing Ezra's hand. "I will not let you destroy everything I have worked for."
"I have no idea what you are talking about. Just stop now, before you do something we will both regret." Ezra tried again to pull on the brake.
"Do it and you'll have a broken hand!"
"As opposed to being dead?" Ezra grabbed the brake and pulled with all his strength.
"Get off that!" the man snarled, kicking at Ezra's hand.
Unwilling to be wheeled to his death, Ezra hung on for all his worth, it was all he had.
Chris and Ezra's bodyguard fought their way through the tied of humanity as best they could. Once they reached the car park, they were forced to split up, as they searched for Ezra. Harman questioned the staff with clipboards, while Chris just stood on low wall the scanned the area. Something caught his eye, something out of place. It wasn't much more than movement, but he jumped down and ran toward it - what ever it was. As he got close, he could see a woman in Islamic robes struggling with a man in a wheelchair. Sprinting now, he could clearly hear Ezra's voice.
"Hey!" Chris shouted as he advanced.
Without breaking stride, he grabbed the woman's arm and spun her away. 'She' didn't go down and the deep voice, spewing out curses, told him his instincts were spot on. With something in his hand the robed man charged at Ezra again, only to meet Chris head on.
"Don't let him stick you!" Ezra shouted.
For the first time Chris saw the flash of something in the man's hand, from Ezra's warning he assumed it was a hypodermic. In a flash he grabbed the wrist holding the needle and twisted it, as if giving a 'Chinese burn'
"No!" the man cried in desperation as his weapon fell from his numbed fingers.
Chris didn't stop twisting until the man was down, his arm and wrist twisted painfully behind his back.
"What the hell?" Harman ran up. "What are you doing?"
"It's him," Chris explained. "He tried to stick Ezra."
Chris nodded to the syringe lying on the ground by the wheelchair.
"Did he indeed? Well looks like you didn't need me. But I'll take over now make it all nice and legal like. Doesnt do to slip up when it's diplomats."
While the prisoner and his 'weapon' were removed, Chris wheeled Ezra back toward the throng of evacuated patients. He was cradling his left hand, clearly it had been injured when Santos kicked it, but there as nothing they could do until the fire brigade declared the building safe. Jones appeared, she stopped to check that Ezra was all right, then moved to help Harman and call for assistance from the uniformed officers who had arrived with the fire trucks. There was some excitement when a Saudi prince began remonstrating with the hospital staff because one of his wife's robes had been stolen.
Chris was getting cold, so he knew Ezra had to be even colder, despite the blanket the hospital staff had handed out. Looking around, he tried to find a way to distract Ezra from his discomfort.
"Will you look at that," he said suddenly.
"Aston Martin DB9 - my dream car."
Ezra found that some how comforting, that Chris, the farmer; ever practical, duty and honour bound, widower and coxswain, had designs on a totally impractical, prohibitively expensive, sports car.
"Yes, well around here, there are any number of very beautiful and very expensive big boys toys," Ezra pointed out.
"Says the man with a top of the line Range Rover with all the extras!" Chris reminded with a grin.
Before Ezra could come up with a riposte, the all clear was given and they were ushered back inside. Jones appeared at their side again.
"It turns out the 'fire' was a wad of oily rags, set alight in an air conditioning shaft," she explained. "The man we arrested isn't speaking, other than to say he has diplomatic immunity, but I'm sure it's Santos."
Chris turned to face her. "Oh you are, are you? Took you long enough!"
"I have to follow procedure, I have to have proof, evidence "
"And while you are waiting for this proof to just fall in your lap, he got near enough to Ezra to kill him - again!"
"Children! Please!" Ezra rebuked. "I am really tied and in some discomfort, so if you don't mind I'd like to get back to my room with out you two squabbling like four year olds."
Jones left them to return to her prisoner, while Chris accompanied Ezra back into the hospital. It took some time, the emergency evacuation had thrown everything into chaos, but eventually Ezra was taken to have his hand examined. It turned to be only badly bruised and would heal in a few days.
Since being returned to his room, Ezra had been dozing for a few hours when suddenly sat up.
"Cars," he said.
"What?" Chris looked up from his book.
"Cars, we were talking about cars."
"I remember, I was in his office, Santos, and there were some pictures on his desk and one of them was of him, younger, but him, leaning against a car."
"It was an E type Jag, BRG and the number plate was OMG 439. OMG - Oh My God, it's not a plate you forget."
"You know it?"
"It belongs to Giles Halsey! He's father gave it to him; it was a wedding present, it's his pride and joy, he doesnt even take it off the estate. I've been in that car! I stayed at their place a few time when I was at school with Julian, he used to let Jules drive it in the park."
"They live in this huge house, with an extensive private park around it. The only way that man could have had his picture taken with that car, is if he was at the Halsey Estate. That is the connection. It was Santos, while he was working for Thornoton-Roundbush as a consultant, who told Halsey about the deal, that's were he got the inside information from!"
"He must have realised you'd recognise the car, eventually. But is it really worth killing for? I mean he could destroy the picture and then it would be your word against his."
"My career was destroyed by no more than rumour and suspicion," Ezra reminded. "Once someone starts looking for a connection between them, who knows what they'll turn up?"
"He let his son drive his pride and joy?" Chris asked incredulously, remembering what Ezra has said.
"Indeed he did. He had to learn on an old Land Rover first; even I got to drive the Land Rover. Halsey was very kind to me, he treated me "
Ezra voice tried off as he suddenly fully took in, that this man, the man who had opened his house to him, who had made a lonely, neglected boy feel welcome, had betrayed him and then stood by and watched as he was fed to the lions. He'd always known the man could have cleared him, but chose not to, but somehow it didn't seem to fully hit him until this moment.
"Ezra?" Chris began softly.
"That life is over, you arent that Ezra anymore. You have a new life, down in Cornwall, with your friends, your real friends."
Ezra looked at Chris, suddenly getting an image of him, bloodied and battered, standing in the wreckage of the wheelhouse, trying to get them all home safely. "I know."
Three days later, Ezra and Chris were boarding a small air ambulance, for the short trip to Cornwall. The doctors had agreed if he was going to be receiving close medical support, and Dr Nathan Jackson assured them he would, Ezra could go directly home, now that his hand was healed sufficiently to allow him to use crutches.
The hypodermic Santos had tried to stick Ezra with, proved to contain enough digitalis to give an elephant a heart attack. There was some diplomatic manoeuvring, but eventually the Saint Lucas government revoked Juan Santo's diplomatic status, so that he could be tried in Britain for attempted murder. It turned out that he and Giles Halsey had spent one year working together in a New York merchant bank. Santos was a graduate trainee, while Halsey was working there as part of an exchange program. They had even shared an apartment.
As they began their descent into Penzance, Chris looked over at Ezra.
"I have to ask you something. Well two things."
"What might that be?"
"Now that your name's been cleared, are you planning to go back?"
"To the City, to your old job?"
Ezra stared at him as if he'd just sprouted a second head.
"No," he assured. "And the second question?"
"Jones told me you made a two million pound charity donation."
"You know you did, and you know full well how much a new lifeboat costs."
"I don't think so."
Ezra looked at his friend long and hard. "You're not planning on sharing this speculation, are you?"