Chapter Twenty One
Beth was exhausted. Jennifer had taken sole charge of the situation as she always did. She barked orders and Beth complied meekly and obediently. Colin remained unconscious throughout the journey to the house at the top of Rake Lane where Jennifer and Marc used to live. Beth knelt in the back of the van beside Colin. He was recumbent on the floor of the van with Beth’s jacket placed under his neck to immobilise it. Beth was on her knees to the side of him, neither touching nor ministering to him. Just kneeling there, absorbing the motion of the van. Her state was much the same as it had been after Marc’s death. She was detached and barely hanging on to the unravelling ribbons of her sanity. As they pulled into the driveway, she remembered Barry and pulled herself together enough to ask Jennifer about him. ‘I’ve stuck to my side of the bargain. I’ve done everything you asked. You have to let Barry go now. Let me take him back home. He’ll be terrified.’
‘I haven’t got him, never did have. Phone Maggie and check if you like,’ said Jennifer.
‘Oh,’ replied Beth, matter of factly. ‘You really are one grade-A bitch. I only did all this,’ she gestured weekly with her hand, ‘because you said you had him.’ She did want to believe her and it was easiest just to take her statement as fact. That took the least effort and, after all, if Barry had been kidnapped from nursery, she’d hear about it. She could rock Maggie in her arms and talk about the wickedness of the world while offering platitudes and chocolate biscuits. For now, it was enough that she’d almost killed Maggie’s ex-husband. She’d deal with one thing at a time. She had to keep Colin alive. She glanced down at him. She couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead, but she really was very tired and couldn’t quite remember what to do to find out, so she just looked once, then looked away again.
‘What are you going to do with Colin’s van?’ she asked Jennifer. Her tone was still conversational but she sounded incredibly weary.
‘I’ve been thinking about that. I was just going to dump it. Middle of Lancaster, or Preston even, but after your psycho-killer stunt it’s probably got tons of messy evidence all over it. Too risky. We’ll just leave it in the garage. It’s the safest place for it for now. We can reassess later if we need to. How’s he doing?’
‘Okay, thanks,’ Beth replied.
Jennifer laughed at Beth’s innocuous reply. It sounded so ridiculously inept. ‘Weirdo,’ she muttered.
They struggled to get Colin out of the van and up to the vault. Jennifer moaned at Marc’s lack of thought in having the vault built into an upper storey of the house instead of at ground level. She was pale and looked frightened. Several times she berated Beth for her part in the kidnapping. ‘He was only supposed to be unconscious from the chloroform. Why did you have to hit him so hard?’
‘I should have hit you instead.’ Beth moaned. ‘I should have saved Colin and hit you. I could have told him everything. He’d have known what to do. I wish I’d got rid of you while I had the chance. I should have killed you.’
‘I’m not sure I’m liking this new, aggressive side of you, Beth. You’re freaking me out. You’re supposed to be my stable guardian-type person. If you’re going to go nut-loop on me you really are going to be a headache. What kind of a role model are you, waltzing round the place, clonking people with rocks like a Yeti? And Jesus, Beth, enjoying it the way you did. That’s screwed, man, that’s really screwed. Hold him steady, will you. No, not like that, he’ll roll off the bed. You’ve got to support him. Christ he’s heavy. Right he’s on. Go on, do your nursey bit.’
Beth didn’t know what to do. They had first aid equipment and enough morphine to put a small nation to sleep, but not much more. She side-stepped Jennifer, who was putting up the cot-sides of the bed, and leaned over Colin. His skin was pale and clammy. She put two fingers to his throat and checked for the movement of his pulse against them. It was coming back to her, gradually her vocation was leaking through the inertia fighting for supremacy over her psyche. The pulse, barely beating through the carotid artery, was weak but tangible. Lifting an eyelid, she watched carefully as his pupil contracted from the glare of the overhead light. She repeated with the other eye. ‘He’s stable, but poorly at the moment,’ she said hesitantly.
Jennifer laughed at her again. ‘I’m not his grieving mother, you know. Stable but poorly, that’s funny. Poorly is having the chicken pox, love, not having your skull caved in with a bloody great boulder. You sound as though you’re reading a Casualty script. Go on, tell me to get the crash cart, stat.’
Beth didn’t reply. She looked at Jennifer who was still giggling. Jennifer’s mascara had run onto her cheek. She was pale and looked shocked and although she still poked jibes at Beth, she seemed frightened and fidgeted with her fingers.
They were both frightened.
‘Let’s cover him up and leave him to sleep it off,’ Jennifer said. ‘We can come back and check on him later.’
‘We can’t leave him. His condition’s serious. He could die, Jennifer. The next twelve hours are critical. He’s not just going to wake up from this with a headache, you know. He could have brain damage. We can’t leave him for a second. What are we going to do? He needs to go to hospital. Let’s just take him and leave him there. We don’t have to let anybody see us. We can leave him on the pavement when it’s dark. We can put him out of range of the security cameras. Somebody will raise the alarm. He needs proper care.’
‘What, and just hope that when he wakes up, the memory of being clunked on the head by his ex-wife’s best mate is going to be wiped away with a convenient bout of amnesia?’
‘If he does wake up. What if he dies? He might die, Jennifer. Why have you brought him here? What are you going to do with him? What are we going to do?’
Jennifer didn’t look up. She examined her boots in a sulky silence. ‘I don’t know. You weren’t supposed to hurt him. I just wanted to see if we could do it. I wanted to get at Maggie, she’s such a bitch, and now it’s all gone wrong. It’s all your fault.’
Beth was thinking more clearly now. She turned her frustration back at Jennifer. ‘My fault? Phantom, this isn’t my fault. I hit him to save you. God knows why. All I’ve ever wanted is to get you out of my life. I just panicked in the heat of the moment. But you can’t blame me for any of this. You got us into it. You thought you could just kidnap a man, do whatever the hell it is that you thought you were going to do with him, rape him or whatever depraved rubbish you’re planning, and then just let him go telling him it was all a joke and no hard feelings, mate? Is that it?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Jennifer, you must know. Why is he here? Were you going to try and blackmail Maggie?’
‘What then? And why Colin? How does kidnapping Col hurt Maggie? They’ve been divorced five years. I don’t understand. How did you see this ending?’
‘I don’t know.’ Jennifer shouted it this time. ‘I just wanted to mess with him. I wanted to see if we could get away with it. I thought maybe I’d clear off afterwards. Go somewhere.’
‘Well, you certainly messed with him, all right. Look at him.’ The implication of what Jennifer had just said sunk in. ‘Hang on, so you were going to kidnap Colin, do whatever weirdness you had in mind to him and then take off leaving me to face the music? Is that it? You were just going to disappear and leave me to take the flack for…everything?’
Jennifer shrugged and then raised her eyes to meet Beth’s. The look she gave her was one of pure hatred. ‘I still can. You killed my brother. I wanted you to pay.’
‘You stupid little girl,’ Beth yelled and Jennifer shrank away from her. ‘You think I’m going to just let you walk away from all this, this carnage that you’ve created with your sick games? You aren’t going anywhere, sweetheart, are you? Are you? Answer me, damn you. You aren’t going anywhere, are you?’
‘No,’ replied Jennifer in a small voice. Beth felt just a tiny jolt of the power return. She was incredibly thirsty and remembered how after cleaning up Marc’s remains she couldn’t stomach anything to drink from this house. She’d never been able to eat or drink here in all the times they’d returned to clean up and maintain the house. ‘Go and make coffee while I attend to his wounds. Lots of it, strong, it’s going to be a long night. And something to eat, too.’
‘I want to watch what you do to him. I might be a nurse like you one day.’
Beth shook her head. ‘Go,’ she yelled.
When Jennifer left the room, Beth prepared what she could find while the kettle in the vault boiled. She poured water into a bowl and used cotton wool and gauze pads from the First Aid kit to clean the blood and matted hair from his wounds. Small shards of bone were sticking out of the open wound at the back of his head. She picked the loose pieces away with tweezers. On clearing away the debris, it didn’t look as bad as she feared it might, but it was bad enough and far more worrying was the deep depression in his skull where she’d hit him with the rock but not broken bone. It was a large surface area and the potential for it to be a serious and debilitating trauma injury was great. She cleaned the wounds with iodine and dressed them with a large pressure bandage around his head. The bleeding was minimal now and clots were already forming and scabbing around the wound. His temperature was rising. His body had gone into clinical shock and a fever was showing the first signs of becoming severe. She stripped him to the waist, pulled the blankets back and set up a fan beside the bed to cool him. If his temperature rose too high he could have seizures and that in itself could cause problems within his brain. Glad that Jennifer wasn’t looking over her shoulder, she catheterised him. Although he was unconscious, he didn’t need Jennifer’s curiosity and innuendo. Beth tried to afford him as much dignity as she could under the circumstances. After making him as comfortable as possible, she gave him a ten mil shot of Morphine to keep him in his sleeping state. She could do no more than sit and wait it out. She pulled one of the two straight-backed chairs in the vault up to the side of his bed and prepared herself for the night ahead.
Jennifer came back with coffee and sandwiches of potted meat made with bread taken from the freezer and not quite defrosted properly in the microwave. Beth found that she was starving and the sandwich seemed like the best she’d ever tasted. She devoured it hungrily and washed it down with coffee from the pot that Jennifer had brought up. It was too hot and burned her throat. Jennifer ate daintily, nibbling in her mouse-like way at the corner of the bread. She cast her sandwich aside after only two small bites and asked Beth if they could go to MacDonald’s. Beth’s cold stare was enough to stop her repeating the question but after sitting quietly for a little while, thumbing through a couple of out of date magazines left in the vault when it was first kitted out, her boredom threshold reached it’s limit. And she started to pepper Beth with questions.
‘When’s he going to wake up?’ she asked for the third time.
‘Twenty past four next Thursday,’ replied Beth irritably, ‘I don’t know, do I? We don’t want him to wake up yet. While he’s sleeping his brain is quiet and can begin healing.’
‘Is that what he’s doing, just sleeping? Does that mean he’s getting better?’
‘No, you fool, he’s in a coma. It’s a little bit further up the sleep scale than forty winks, in case you’re wondering.’
‘If he’s in a coma can he still get a hard on?’
‘Oh shut up you childish fool. I get so sick of your ridiculous incessant questions?’
‘God, you get narky when you’re stressing out. I only asked. He’s not going to wake up or anything tonight, is he? Let’s go home, Beth. Please. I want to watch The X-Factor.’
‘You’re not going anywhere. We’re going to take turns in sleeping and watching him around the clock for however long it takes. Make up the bunks. We’ll work in a military shift pattern of eight-four-four-eight.’
‘What the hell does that mean?’
‘Well, if you’ll shut up and listen for a minute I’ll tell you. We work eight hours on then four hours off, four hours on and then eight hours off. It’s the most efficient and energy saving way of maintaining a two-man shift for an extended period of time. I’ll take the first eight hour shift while you sleep.’
‘I’m not tired,’ Jennifer protested.
‘You will be. Sleep.’
Jennifer ignored Beth and got up to turn on one of the television sets. She picked up a remote control to transfer the signal from CCTV mode onto Sky TV.
‘Turn it off,’ Beth snapped.
Jennifer’s voice was petulant. ‘If you’re going to keep me locked up in here like a prisoner then you can’t expect me to just sleep and watch him. I want to watch The X-Factor.’
Beth relented for a quiet life. ‘Well, keep it low then so that I can hear if there’s any change in Colin’s status.’
Jennifer watched television until after midnight and fell asleep lying on top of the bunk less than three hours before she was due to take over the night vigil beside Colin’s bed. At four o’clock in the morning when the alarm that Beth had set went off, Jennifer continued to breathe evenly. Beth left Jennifer to sleep through her eight hour shift.
Beth watched over Colin for sixteen hours straight. She moved only to replenish his morphine, to use the lavatory once, and to freshen the coffeepot with water from the vault’s kettle. In the coldest hours before dawn, she walked over to her bunk and pulled off one of the unzipped double sleeping bags and took it back to her chair to wrap around herself. She dozed lightly, annoyed with herself every time she felt her eyes closing and her head drooping towards her chest. She’d get up, check Colin’s stats again and pour herself another cup of coffee.
She’d fallen asleep properly. As she opened her eyes she was aware of movement at the side of Colin’s bed. Jennifer was standing with her back almost to Beth half in profile. She must have woken up while Beth slept. Beth’s first though on waking was one of guilt for falling asleep when she was on night watch. The feeling quickly passed from her as she took in the scene at the bedside. Jennifer had rolled the sheet down to Colin’s knees. As Beth’s eyes adjusted to the darkness she saw that Jennifer was only wearing a pair of briefs and the vest top that she often wore in bed. She was in profile to Beth and Beth saw that her left hand was moving rhythmically, she could hear Jennifer breathing and was horrified when what she was doing became apparent. Jennifer’s right hand was busy too. She had taken Colin’s penis from his pyjamas and was moving it furiously. Beth could see Jennifer’s hand working the limp flesh and she was oblivious to Beth as she simultaneously masturbated herself and Colin.
Beth tried to leap from the chair but got caught up in the sleeping bag. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Oh, my God.’ She was trying to untangle herself and get to Jennifer.
At the first movement from Beth, Jennifer jumped. She quickly extracted her hand from the front of her panties and Beth saw her wipe her fingers across the scant material half covering her backside. She took hold of the catheter tube and peered closely. ‘Beth, Beth, wake up,’ she said, ‘I think this tube thingies, blocked or something. It doesn’t look right to me.’
Beth Grabbed Jennifer and flung her harshly across the room. ‘You’re sick, do you know that? You are a sick little girl. I saw what you were doing. You disgust me. Get out, go on, get out.’ Jennifer, seeing the rage on Beth’s face, only stopped long enough to pick up her trousers from where she’d removed them in front of the bunk. Her face was red and she ran from the vault. Beth checked Colin over before covering him up and checking his stats. His catheter was fine with the waste flowing smoothly down the tube to collect in the measuring bag. She couldn’t believe what she’d just seen.
An hour before the second shift ended at midday she washed Colin’s torso and face to remove the slick sweat that lay in a sheen over his body. She checked his dressings and topped up his morphine and intravenous Paracetamol.
The next thing she knew Jennifer was shaking her awake. ‘Huh, some night-nurse you are,’ Jennifer chided, ‘I bet you’ve been asleep all night and all morning. I suppose you want me to take over now?’ It was as though the events of the night had never taken place.
Beth stretched herself awake and turned her head sharply to look at Colin. She rose and checked his pulse and his pupils. Satisfied that his condition had not altered while she’d dozed, she sat back down heavily. She was stiff, her head pounding, and she was so tired that even her thoughts seemed lazy and inarticulate. ‘No,’ she replied at length, wiping a little spittle from the corner of her mouth. ‘It’ll mess up the shift pattern and I don’t know if I can ever trust you alone with him again. I’m okay for the next four hours. Go and get some fresh air. Go home, get a shower. Bring back some supplies with you, please. Clean clothes and bread for a start. I couldn’t face another half-frozen butty. I’ll sleep when we go into the next shift and for God’s sake, Jennifer, don’t be late back for it. I need you to pull your weight here.’
‘Yes, Mother,’ Jennifer replied.
Jennifer was just short of half an hour late coming back. Beth was so tired that she felt physically sick. She felt grubby and wanted a shower herself before crawling into the bunk, but when she attempted to stand, she almost overbalanced and had to grab hold of the railing on Colin’s bed to support herself. After giving Jennifer a lecture about behaving herself, she made it across the room and flopped on to the bed, dragging her sleeping bag with her. She didn’t bother climbing between the sheets and she mumbled to Jennifer to be sure to wake her at eight o’clock for her shift and to wake her immediately if there was any change at all in Colin’s condition. Almost before she’d finished the sentence she was asleep. Forty minutes later Jennifer was screaming at her to wake up and shaking her roughly.
‘Wake up. Come on, wake up, Beth. I think he’s dying. Something’s happening to him. And he’s shit himself. It stinks.’
Beth came to full wakefulness almost instantly. She threw back the sleeping bag, got up, and shot across the room to the side of Colin’s bed in one fluid movement. Colin’s eyeballs were flickering from side to side beneath his closed lids. His arms and legs were jerking intermittently. The movements were only small, he wasn’t jumping around the bed like a marionette, but it was a classic trauma-induced seizure. His body was covered in a film of glistening sweat that smelt sweet and sickly. The sheet beneath him was soaking from the moisture that had seeped from his pores. The saline drip bag was emptying drop by drop into his vein via the canular. His catheter night bag was a third full so he was taking in and expelling his fluids and the morphine that was also fed through his canular, well.
Beth dropped the end of the bed and lay him flat. His finger and toe nails were blue. Something was causing circulatory problems with his blood flow. Beth already knew what it was.
Jennifer hovered close.
‘Move,’ Beth said. ‘Get back. Look, go and get me something to tie his legs down.’ She had no intention of tying him down, but she needed Jennifer out of her way.
Jennifer ran out of the vault.
At that moment, Colin stopped breathing.
Beth lifted one of his eyelids and then the other. His pupils were fixed and dilated. She needed a defibrillator. His heart had to be jolted into starting by a high voltage electric shock. All she could do was administer basic Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. She screamed at the top of her voice for Jennifer to come back, she needed her now to assist, but she knew that sound in the padded room wouldn’t carry to Jennifer downstairs.
Beth swept his mouth with her finger to clear any vomit or debris from his airway. She checked that his tongue was in the correct position and clear of his throat. She listened to his chest for a heart beat. Nothing. Making a fist she brought the side of her hand down into the middle of Colin’s chest with all the force she could muster. Her little finger reacted painfully to the blow and she shook her hand out to ease the pain as she placed her ear on his chest again.
There was still no heartbeat. She laced her fingers and dragged her index finger along Colin’s sternum until she hit the soft area in the middle of his chest where his organs were exposed from the protection of the bone. With her fingers on the wall of the sternum she placed the heel of her left hand onto the skin above the organs. She rose up onto her tiptoes. Locked her elbows and pumped the first fifteen cardiac compressions. Quickly, she pinched Colin’s nostrils together, took a deep breath and, completely covering Colin’s mouth with her own, she forced the air from her own lungs smoothly into his. She watched as his chest rose with the air filling his lungs.
She put her ear to his chest to listen for a heartbeat. There was nothing. Working fifteen compressions to one exhalation, she continued to give Colin the life saving CPR. She worked on him solidly for some time, knowing that without a sudden shock to the heart, it wasn’t going to suddenly leap back into life. The breath she gave him, working in conjunction with the heart contractions, kept his brain fed with oxygen. She had to get his heart started. She was only slight; it needed more muscle to put pressure on the heart. She used every ounce of force that she could muster.
Sweat droplets fell from her forehead onto Colin’s chest. She was exhausted and panting with the exertion. She would not give up. She would not let this man die literally under her hands. But she was weakening. She couldn’t keep it up. Every muscle in her body ached. Knowing it was completely useless she still yelled out after every set of compressions for Jennifer to come and help her. Colin was dead, only her artificial attempts to keep his brain fed with oxygen was giving him the chance to come back. She’d had no sleep. She’d used all of her stamina to keep the CPR going but now she needed Jennifer to come or she was going to have to stop. In sheer desperation she made a fist. Putting all of her frustration and desperate need for him to live behind the blow, she brought the side of her fist down on his chest again and then listened for a response.
She felt the soft flicker of a heartbeat against her ear, waited, making sure more beats followed and, when they did, she dropped her head onto his chest and sobbed.
Sitting back in the chair she waited for her own heart rate to slow. She was aware of her body odour. She had sweated. Her hair hung in damp rat-tails, her armpits stank and she badly needed a shower and sleep. She knew that neither of those things were going to happen for her for many hours to come. Colin’s brain was bleeding; pressure was building in his skull. He was a ticking time bomb and until that pressure was released he could still die at any second.
Colin was still covered to his waist with a single sheet. After preparing a bowl to wash him Beth took the sheet off him. She had stolen plenty of clean bedding from the hospital in the previous weeks at Jennifer’s request by blackmail.
She washed his face first. He was calm. The fit had passed but she knew that another one wouldn’t be long in coming and that his heart couldn’t take the strain of another fit and would most probably stop again. Next time she would be less likely to be able to bring him back.
She washed his torso and dried him carefully. His lower body was a mess from the defecation. She removed his boxers and threw them to one side. Using gauze wipes she cleared away as much of the mess as she could. Putting her right hand onto his back she rolled him onto his side. She straightened his right leg and crossed it at the ankle against the left one so that he would roll fluidly and she pulled his left arm out from under his body to use as an anchor. Resting Colin against her own body, which she pressed tight up against the bed to keep him in a forward rolled position, she first rolled the soiled incontinence pad into a tube and pressed it under Colin’s side. Then she did the same with the draw sheet. With Colin still lying in this position she washed and dried his bottom and as much of his legs as she could reach. She had prepared everything in advance while the kettle boiled water and had everything she would need to hand. She took a clean already-rolled draw sheet with a conti-pad in position inside it and pressed it underneath him to meet the laundry that was to be removed. She creamed his bottom and scrotum with vitamin-E aqueous cream as a barrier against bed sores and then slid clean pyjama bottoms up his legs from a box that had been in the corner marked Marc’s Clothing. Carefully, she rolled him onto his back, remembering to uncross his ankles so that the blood flow wouldn’t be trapped. She checked his stats again before circling to the other side of the bed and rolling him the other way. She took out the carefully rolled soiled bedding and smoothed out the clean draw sheet and conti-pad from underneath him, pulling his pyjamas up from this side so that his skin wouldn’t be lying for hours against rucked up material. She had performed the entire clean up operation with only one roll to each side, a task difficult enough with two experienced nurses.
Colin’s appearance belied the severity of his condition. He looked peaceful now, but that was far from the case. He needed help and he needed it now. Every second passed was a second wasted and the bleed in his brain was only getting worse.
Beth cleared his bed before she picked up the soiled things on the floor. Cleanliness was paramount and everything had to be done to keep the spread of germs to a minimum. She washed her hands before separating the soiled laundry into disposable items and things to be washed. She sealed the rubbish into a bag and put the sheets into another bag. Jennifer walked in just as she was finishing this task.
‘Ugh’ she said covering her mouth and gagging, ‘It stinks even worse in here. Haven’t you wiped his arse yet?’
‘Where the fucking hell have you been?’
Jennifer held up a box with Fetish Fantasy written on it. ‘I knew Marc had one of these in his room, but bloody hell it took some finding. I found a shoebox with these really cool photos.’
Beth was exasperated. ‘What the hell is that?’
Jennifer looked at the box in her hand. ‘It’s a rope. You told me to go and get something to tie him with. This is a top of the range bondage tie-up kit, I’ll have you know.’
‘Oh shut up. Right, he’s clean. The yellow bag of rubbish needs to go down to the bins and the stuff in the other bag has to go through the washer. Some of it may need soaking in a bucket to rinse the heavy soiling first.’
‘Ugh,’ said Jennifer again. ‘And?’
‘And what?’ asked Beth wearily.
‘And you’re telling me this why?’
‘Just go and do it will you, please?’
‘No way. No way am I ever touching that stuff. Beth, he shit himself. I’m not cleaning up after him.’
‘No, I did that. But not before he died on me and I had to resuscitate him. He needs to go to a hospital now, Jennifer. If we don’t get him to a hospital immediately his heart is going to stop again and he is going to die. There’s no avoiding it. He’s got a bleed inside his head.
‘No hospitals, Beth. It’s gone too far for that. Whatever needs doing, we do it here. Doesn’t sound too bad, releasing a bit of blood from inside his head. We’ll do it ourselves.’
‘Are you completely mad? He needs an operation. This isn’t a game of doctors and nurses. His life is hanging by a thread and any second now he’s going to die.’
Jennifer looked scared.
Beth went on talking, ‘Do I look like a fucking neuro surgeon? I can’t perform intricate brain surgery any more than you can. I wouldn’t know where to start. And what do you expect me to use, a household drill and some sticky-backed plastic? It’s called a subdural haematoma. He needs the blood releasing. Brain surgery, Jennifer. He needs brain surgery now.’
‘No hospital,’ Jennifer repeated stubbornly. ‘If he dies, he dies. If we can save him, all the better. But we do it here, Beth. It’s up to you. You can find out everything you need to know on the Internet. It tells you everything these days. Hey, I bet there’s even a video that we can download that’ll guide you. And anyway, you’ve been trained for this stuff. You told me that you’ve helped in brain operations before.’
‘Yes, as a scrub nurse as part of my training many years ago. I passed metal things from a tray into the hand of a skilled surgeon and, I admit, I did have a special interest in neurology and read a few books, but that’s all. Listen, you stupid little girl, this isn’t putting a plaster on a grazed knee and waiting for it to heal, you know. I am a nurse. I look after people after they’ve had surgery. I can’t drill into somebody’s head.’
‘Well if he’s going to die anyway, you might as well give it a go because we can’t take him to hospital. It’s him or us, Beth. Even if he died in hospital before he got the chance to say anything, too many questions are going to be asked. We can’t take that chance.’
‘But nobody has seen us with him. There’s nothing at all to link him to us. Please, Jennifer, let’s get him the help he needs. That’s all we can do for him now. In the time we’ve stood here debating it, more blood has escaped into his cranium and is increasing the pressure.’
‘Oh, my God, he’s not going to explode, is he?’ shrieked Jennifer, looking truly horrified.
‘No, not explode, just die.’ Beth shook her head, exasperated, and Jennifer let out her breath in an audible rush.
‘If he’s definitely going to die anyway, there’s no harm in trying, is there? What do you need to do? I’ll help. Maybe the bleeding will stop and he’ll get better without having to cut his head open.’
‘No, there’s no doubt about it that without releasing the pressure from his brain he is going to die. Even if I had the skills to do this, which I don’t, I haven’t got any of the monitoring equipment. It’s like spinning a globe, closing your eyes and pointing. You might be aiming for Africa but you’re more likely to land in the sea. I need a… oh, it’s a probe that you insert inside his head with a tiny camera on the end. It shows you where the pressure has built up and where you need to put a shunt.’
‘Oh, is that all? Well, go into work and nick one.’
‘Jennifer. You have no idea. I don’t have access to the operating theatres. They have to be kept sterile. They have cameras everywhere. And the theatres are on round-the-clock operating times now. It would be impossible. I’d need a surgical drill, shunts, oh the list is endless. You’re asking the impossible.’
‘Well, what about in the olden days? They didn’t have little cameras and all that then, did they?’ Jennifer interjected in triumph. ‘Tell you what, just imagine something. Right. Imagine Colin was your old man, yeah? You’ve been out climbing mountains in the snow, somewhere snowy and cold, right. Imagine that he falls over and hits his head and then there’s a blizzard and you only just manage to get him back to your remote log cabin up the mountain. The telephone’s dead so you can’t get help but you have a tool box under the sink and he needs this operation or he’s going to die.
What would you do, just sit there?’
‘Just shut up, will you?’
‘Beth, it’s a serious question. Come on what would you do?’
Beth sighed. ‘Of course I’d try to save him, but that’s different. We can get Colin to the hospital and into professional hands.’
‘No, we can’t. Come on, what do we need and I’ll get it ready?’
‘Jennifer, it’s impossible. I wouldn’t know where to drill, or what size hole to make. What if I drilled into his skull on one side of his head only to find that the pressure build up was at the other? What then?’
‘Then you drill another hole at the other bloody side, of course. We might leak like a colander, but what the hell? Now, are we going to stand here talking while he dies or are we going to try and save his life?’
Beth couldn’t believe what she was about to do as they boiled pans of water, sterilising, as best they could, the things they had collected to use on Colin’s makeshift brain surgery. She thought about waiting until Jennifer was distracted and making a call to the emergency service. She knew that’s what she should do. But Jennifer was right. It had gone too far and would bring about the downfall of them. They couldn’t move him now. The ambulance team would have to come right up to the vault. The likelihood that Colin was going to die was great anyway, with or without professional help. Self preservation had kicked in hard again and she was too far down the slippery slope to get him the help that he needed to live. She was left with two choices. She could sit and watch him die – she estimated that would happen within hours. Or she could make a feeble attempt to save him and probably watch him die anyway. She had to try. She spent the next four hours pouring over Jennifer’s laptop, searching neurology papers by eminent surgeons and gleaning every bit of information that she thought might guide her.
Colin lay on his stomach. They had covered his head in swabs to absorb any lost fluids and had a large piece of cloth with a hole cut into the centre placed in position over the area where the hole would be drilled. Beth’s hands shook and she gripped the drill tighter to stem the shaking. One slip and Colin was history. Jennifer stood beside Beth looking terrified but still craning her neck to better see what was going on. Beth placed the drill in position lining the bit against the centre of the cross that they had put in marker pen on the back of Colin’s skull. She told herself again that this was lunacy and then made the first turn on the handle to connect the drill bit with Colin’s skull.