Will Fletcher rested his head against the door pillar of the taxi and let the washed out cityscape pass by the window as he wiped tears from his eyes, trying to calm his adrenalin-spiked heartbeat.
The taxi driver was doing his best not to stare at him in the rear view mirror and instead steered the vehicle around back streets and one way systems in an attempt to get his passenger to the hospital as fast as possible.
After their argument last night, he and Amy hadn’t spoken this morning. Instead, she’d left before he’d had a chance to apologise, and now he wished he hadn’t been so stupid.
He reached over and pulled his backpack across the seat towards him, patting the outer pocket to make sure he still had Amy’s mobile. She’d forgotten it in her haste to leave the apartment before he could speak to her, and in an attempt to make peace, he’d been planning to phone her and hand it over during their lunch breaks; maybe buy her dinner after work.
He pushed the bag away, his hands shaking.
He’d been out when he heard about the accident. He and Russell Harper had escaped the confines of their offices at the museum in search of a caffeine fix. He’d been running late as usual, his flight from his desk interrupted by his manager.
Twisting his back to ease the cricks in his muscles, he’d turned to see Jack watching him from his office.
The older man had raised an eyebrow. ‘If you’re getting coffee, you’d better buy me one,’ he growled.
‘White, no sugar – ’cause you’re sweet enough already, right?’
Jack had held up his middle finger in Will’s direction and turned back to his room, closing the door.
Will had laughed and made his way down to the lobby. As the elevator doors opened, the cacophony of hundreds of languages had assaulted his ears.
Tourists swarmed around the entranceway into the museum, pointing out exhibits to each other or calling out to wayward children as harassed tour guides led their charges through the building, hand-held signs wavering above people’s heads.
Will had nodded to a uniformed security guard as he passed through one of the exit turnstiles, and then hurried across to the front doors where Russell was waiting for him, tapping the face of his watch.
‘You’d be late for your own funeral,’ he’d grumbled, then grabbed Will’s arm and propelled him through the doors.
‘Remind me to get a coffee for Jack,’ said Will. ‘Otherwise you’ll be top of that invitation list.’
‘And how is the old bugger?’
‘About normal for a Monday.’
‘That good, eh?’
They had followed the wrought iron boundary fence that encircled the museum and then turned left, passing Georgian houses on a tree-lined avenue. Stationary cars parked in impossibly small spaces lined each side of the street, while the road itself flanked the side of the museum’s grounds before veering right.
‘What’s Amy working on these days?’
Will shrugged. ‘This and that,’ he said. ‘It’s all very hush-hush – she didn’t even want to me any details.’
Russell had laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. ‘It’s okay – I won’t ask. Guess we’ll just have to both read about it on the front page, huh?’
Will had checked over his shoulder for traffic before both men hurried through a small park, jogged across a zebra crossing and into an Italian restaurant. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans teased his senses as the door swung shut behind him.
‘Good morning, gentlemen!’ A beaming man, his black hair speckled with grey and silver streaks, appeared at a doorway. He’d checked over his shoulder into a noisy kitchen before wiping his hands on a tea towel slung over his shoulder and moved towards the coffee machine. ‘Usual?’
‘Please, Luigi.’ Will had turned at a light punch on his arm. ‘Oh yeah, and one for Jack. Better make it a double shot – given the mood he’s in, I don’t think his funding came through.’
Luigi made apologetic noises and busied himself with the coffee-making machine. ‘It’s not good, Will. I have seen all the hard work he puts into those exhibitions.’
‘Well, maybe we’ll hear something this week,’ Will said, then turned and joined Russell, who had pulled out two stools next to a counter set against the window overlooking the street. For a moment, he had sat and watched people as they dashed backwards and forwards in front of him, then looked down as Russell grunted.
‘Just reading this newspaper article. About that prick they reckon will be Prime Minister one day, heaven help us. Did you know he used to work in construction?’
Russell had flicked the page, a snort of derision on his lips. ‘My old man reckons the guy’s a crook – lots of dirty deals, you know?’
Will had grinned, not wishing to be drawn into a debate. He knew if Russell started, the man wouldn’t shut up until they’d returned to the museum. He sneaked a glance at the photograph which accompanied the newspaper story and realised it was the same man Amy was meeting with that morning. He checked his watch.
‘Here you go.’ Luigi had interrupted his thoughts and set three takeaway cups on the counter in front of them. He tapped the lid of the one nearest to Will, then winked. ‘That’s Jack’s. With double shot.’
Will had slid off the stool, picked up his and Jack’s coffees and stepped towards the door. ‘Cheers, Luigi. See you tomorrow.’
He had his elbow against the door handle before he realised Russell wasn’t behind him. ‘Russ?’
His jaw slack, he had turned to see Russell staring at the small television above the bar. Will followed his gaze to see a news bulletin splayed across the screen.
A red Breaking News banner screamed a headline across the lower half of the display, its white, bold text jolting Will out of his good mood.
Opposition leader ambushed by gunmen. Several casualties.
‘Luigi, turn the sound up!’
Russell took the remote control from the restaurant owner and aimed it at the television, the newscaster’s voice bellowing from the speakers. They all jumped at the sudden blast of noise, before Russell adjusted the volume.
The newscaster had his finger to his earpiece, reciting updates as the newsroom relayed them to him.
‘We’re told that emergency services are at the scene, and the road has been blocked to all traffic while police deal with this serious incident,’ he said excitedly, then dropped his hand and returned to the autocue in front of him. ‘For those who may be just tuning in, we’re receiving reports that Ian Rossiter, the current favourite to win next month’s election, has been involved in an incident in Marylebone. There are reports that he has been shot, alongside the people that were in his car with him.’
Will had squashed the sides of the coffee cups in his hands, his knuckles white. His heartbeat had rushed through his ears, punching him between the ribs as the reporter’s urgent voice washed over him.
‘Will? Are you okay?’
‘I think Amy was with him.’
‘What? What do you mean?’
Will had pointed at the television with one of the cups. ‘Amy. She told me she was going to interview Ian Rossiter this morning. Some sort of exclusive.’ He blinked, fighting down the panic. ‘I – I just know something’s happened to her.’
Russell had glanced at Luigi, then back at Will. He snatched the coffee cups away, thrust them at the bewildered restaurant owner, and then frog-marched Will through the front door.
‘I’ll call you later, Luigi,’ he’d yelled over his shoulder as the doors slammed shut.
Will had allowed Russell to lead him back to the museum, the passing pedestrians and traffic a blur. Somewhere in his subconscious, he heard car horns, exclamations from people who didn’t get out of Russell’s way fast enough, a vehicle skidding to a stop to their right, and a man’s voice swearing from an open car window.
Then they were at the security turnstiles. Will had felt like he was walking underwater. He could hear people, but he struggled to understand what they were saying. Russell leaned across in front of him, reached down, and tugged at the security pass clipped to his belt. Ignoring the curious glance from the guard, Will had pushed through the gate, and then Russell’s palm shoved him in the back, pushing him towards the elevators.
Will’s hearing only returned to normal once the doors slid shut. ‘Sorry – pardon?’
‘Oh thank god, he’s back to earth,’ muttered Russell. ‘I said, we’ll make some calls. Her mobile phone might be out of range – or flat, right?’
‘No – she forgot her phone this morning. It’s in my backpack.’
‘On my desk.’
‘Well, phone her editor – find out if she’s back at the office.’ Russell slapped him on the arm as the elevator doors opened. ‘Come on mate, hang in there.’
Will’s composure had started to slip as Jack barrelled through the open-plan office towards them, heads turning to stare as he approached.
‘You need to get to Prince George Hospital as soon as possible,’ he’d blurted out. ‘We’ve been trying to call you for the past twenty minutes.’
Will had frowned and noticed the man’s eyes were red-rimmed. ‘Prince George Hospital?’
‘It’s all over the news – someone’s attacked Ian Rossiter and everyone in his motorcade,’ said Jack and lowered his voice. ‘Amy’s been shot.’
Will had felt his legs buckle, and Jack reached out to steady him. Sweat broke out on his forehead and blood rushed in his ears, blocking out the conversation.
‘Have you got enough money on you for a taxi?’ his boss asked. He looked over his shoulder. ‘Rosalind! Get a taxi ordered for Will. Have them pick him up outside the loading bay round the back, okay?’
Will watched, helpless, as the young intern had launched herself at her phone, speed-dialling the local taxi number, her eyes wide, staring at him. Somehow in the last thirty seconds he’d become rooted to the spot.
Then Russell was at his side, thrusting his backpack at him. ‘Go. I’ve put your mobile in there. Get going. Phone us when you can, all right?’ He nodded at Jack, and then pushed Will towards the elevators. As they waited for the doors to open, he’d lowered his voice.
‘Jesus, Will, of all the people for this to happen to. I mean, god – I hope she’ll be okay. If there’s anything I can do, you’ll let me know, right?’
Will had raised his head at the sound of a low ping as the doors opened. He stepped inside the elevator car, then turned to face his friend, tears at the corner of his eyes, and nodded.
‘Yeah, of course.’
Now, he was stuck in traffic and still two miles away from the hospital.
When he’d wondered why Amy hadn’t been taken to one closer to the scene of the shooting, a remnant of information in his subconscious reminded him that the newly opened Prince George complex boasted one of the best neurosurgery teams in the country.
He rubbed his hand over his face and tried to ignore the sickness in the pit of his stomach before the taxi lurched forwards, and they were moving.
Please let her be okay.
Will rubbed his eyes and tried to ignore the stench of disinfectant, sweat, and fear that permeated the hospital corridor. He shifted on the chair, its metal back support cool against his shirt.
A bead of sweat pooled between his shoulder blades and he pushed back into the chair to stop it from running down his spine, then leaned forward and put his head in his hands, his mind racing.
What the hell happened?
Will raised his head at the sound of footsteps. A man in his late fifties with a shock of white hair hurried towards him.
‘I’m Mr Hathaway – the surgeon who will be operating on Amy.’ Hathaway shifted his grip on a clipboard and extended his hand. ‘Let’s talk in the privacy of my office.’
‘Isn’t she in surgery? Why aren’t you there?’
‘They’re prepping her now. As you can appreciate, it’s a very delicate balancing act, so we need to be careful.’
Hathaway led Will down the corridor, then abruptly turned left, pushed open a door and ushered Will inside. He pulled out a chair for Will at a paper-littered desk, and then sat.
‘Are there any relatives nearby we can contact to be with you?’
Will shook his head. ‘No.’
The surgeon nodded. ‘All right.’ He flipped over the pages on the clipboard, and appeared to be lost in thought.
Will’s foot tapped against the worn carpet, until he could bear the silence no more. He leaned forward.
‘How bad is she?’
‘The bullet is lodged in the outer part of her skull. It’s going to be a long procedure – hours – with a very specialised team. After that, we’ll be keeping her in an induced coma to give her body time to heal.’ The surgeon pushed a clipboard towards Will. ‘Please check the details we have for yourself and Amy, and let me have a note of any emergency contacts we can call in case we can’t reach you.’
He pulled out a black soft tip pen from his overcoat and passed it to Will.
As he leaned over the desk, the pen slipped from Will’s grip and rolled across the desk.
The surgeon stopped its movement with a slap of his hand, and then glanced up. ‘I promise I’ll do my best, Will, but I won’t know how bad it is until I start.’
Will took the pen from Hathaway, forced his hand to stop shaking, and scrawled Russell’s mobile number at the bottom of the form before passing the paperwork back to the surgeon.
‘I have to go,’ said Hathaway, ‘but there’s a side room off the accident and emergency unit for families. You’re welcome to wait there while Amy’s in surgery.’
‘Can I see her now?’ His voice shook, and he dropped his gaze to the carpet. ‘Would that be possible?’
‘She’s in a very sterile environment while we’re prepping for surgery, but you can see her through a window.’
Will sniffed, and then looked at Hathaway. ‘Just do everything you can for her, okay?’
The older man nodded. ‘We will. Come with me.’
He stood and led Will through a network of corridors until they were side by side at a window, its curtains closed. Hathaway peered through a crack in the material, then opened them a little and beckoned to Will.
Amy lay on a hospital gurney, swathed in blue sheets, her fair hair shaved on one side, her left cheek purple and bruised, congealed blood covering her face. Tubes and machines surrounded her while nurses worked, inserting needles, checking displays on screens and quietly talking, sharing information.
Will ran a hand over his face.
She looked so helpless, so utterly vulnerable, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
He jumped as Hathaway placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘She’s not in pain. She’s medicated at the moment.’
Will shook his head, unable to speak, then turned at the sound of heavy footsteps.
Two armed police officers hurried past, their faces grim, their rifles pointing at the floor as they overtook a pair of orderlies wheeling a trolley towards a set of double doors.
Hathaway’s gaze followed the retreating figures. ‘The police will probably want to talk to you in a bit. They’re going to put an armed guard outside the operating area and the room we’ll put Amy in for her recovery.’
‘Armed guard? Why?’
Hathaway shrugged and let the curtain fall back into place, and gestured towards the waiting area. ‘I don’t know. They haven’t told me. Sorry, Will – I have to get ready for her surgery.’ He pointed towards a row of chairs placed opposite a television set, its volume a low hum under the noise of the ward. ‘You can wait here. The police have set up a room elsewhere in the hospital. I or one of my team will come and find you as soon as I’m out of surgery to let you know how it went.’
Will nodded dumbly, shook the surgeon’s hand, and traipsed towards the row of chairs.
On the television, the twenty-four-hour news channel replayed the footage he and Russell had seen earlier that morning.
The reporter reiterated the scant facts the news channel been able to glean from the police and various experts in counter-terrorism.
Will pushed the palms of his hands down onto his thighs to stop them from shaking. The man’s retelling of the events seemed emotionless, the way he described the situation as if it were mere entertainment.
He jerked his head in the direction of the female voice.
A young police officer stood at the end of the row of chairs, concern on her face.
‘Please come with me, sir. The detective in charge of the investigation would be grateful if you could speak with him now.’
Will followed the policewoman as she led the way to a lift. At the third floor, she guided him through a series of offices and into a conference room. Knocking twice, she opened the door, stood to one side, and gestured to Will.
‘Inspector Lake, this is Will Fletcher.’
"Look Closer is great for fans of Bourne, Spooks and other high octane conspiracy fare."
“I have not enjoyed a book so much since I read Robert Goddard's 'Past Caring' ... like Robert Goddard's style of writing, Rachel Amphlett keeps you guessing and surprising you”