CHRISTMAS MYSTERY by Sophie Weston: EPISODE 12 Part 1
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The nurse was instantly alert. “Does he want to hurt you?”
“I don’t know,” said Liv. “And I don’t know why he’s following me. I don’t even know who he is.”
Except that the daring, athletic cyclist was definitely not Francis. That was a relief in one way. But only a small way. She could feel the hamster wheel of panic start up again. She breathed carefully.
I can deal with this. I CAN DEAL WITH THIS.
But she felt as if her bones had turned to netting and her stomach cramped.
The nurse stayed cool and stuck to the important stuff. “He’s followed you before?”
Liv tried to draw another calming breath and was horrified to hear how shaky it was. “Yes. Rather a lot.”
The nurse patted her hand. “Then he might want to hurt you. There’s crazies everywhere. We need to tell the driver.”
“The bus driver. My son’s a bus driver. I’ll talk to him.”
She went forward and stood patiently until the bus pulled up at traffic lights. They were red. Liv saw her lean into the cab and murmur to the driver.
She came back to Liv. “You got someone you can call to help?”
Yes, oh yes. Thank Heavens for Patrick Fell. Thank Heavens he didn’t let me get rid of him.
“You call him now. Tell him we’re at Sloane Square and going slowly. See if he can intercept us. It’s on the TfL website.”
The bus started up again, taking a stately three quarter circle round the square.
Liv’s hands were shaking so badly she had to take three goes at calling Patrick. He picked up at once.
“Liv? Where are you?” He sounded terse.
“I’m on the bus. And my stalker is on a bike, weaving round us. W–waiting for me to get off.”
“Details.” She could hear his footsteps. He must be running down the stairs to the underground car park.
She told him.
“Let me speak to the driver.”
She went to the front of bus. The driver glanced sideways briefly, as he negotiated the left hand turn.
“Bus stop coming up,” he said. “Talk then.”
“Can my friend talk to you?” She flourished the phone. “His name’s Patrick.”
The bus braked and the driver waited until it was completely stationary. Then he held out a hand for the phone, still keeping his eyes on the road.
“Charles Farmer here,” he said, his formality at odds with the big grin on his face. “Ah. There he goes. Pulled into that side street there, see. He’s sitting round the corner.”
The cyclist had just sped past them. Liv felt sick.
She heard Patrick’s voice, though she couldn’t make out what he said. But the bus driver said, “Right. Traffic’s pretty light. No one would guess it’s New Year’s Eve.”
Patrick said something else. “Oh, that’s not far at all. You’ll catch us in Victoria Street, if I follow all the guidelines at each bus stop.”
He handed the phone back to Liv. “Your man will catch us up. Go and sit in the back seat and watch for him.” He turned towards the patiently waiting passengers at the bus stop and at last opened the door for them to get in.
Liv put the phone to her ear as she made her way to the back of the bus. “Hello?”
“Your man,” said Patrick. “Another nice economical term. I like this man.” He sounded a little out of breath. Liv heard the click and thunk of a car door opening and closing. “Right,” said Patrick. “I’m on the trail. Barring accidents, I’ll be with you in fifteen minutes or so.”
“Drive carefully.” She tried to make it light.
“Softly as foot can fall,” he assured her. “Keep talking to me. Oh, and if anyone gets on that you recognise, or don’t like the way they look at you, take a photo of them. Make sure they see you doing it. They’ll know it can be used in evidence. Better still, get someone else to do it.”
Liv looked at the nurse, still standing in the gangway, looking concerned. “Did you hear that?”
The nurse shook her head. Liv explained Patrick’s strategy.
“I’ll take the photos,” said the nurse grimly. “Be glad to. Crazy or not, I got no time for stalkers.”
The driver was greeting the new passengers with a cheery Happy New Year. Each one got the full spiel about keeping their masks on at all times and maintaining 2 metres away from anyone else. He insisted that each one waited until the one before had sat down.
Liv reported all that to Patrick.
“Excellent. I’m just about to cross the river.”
“The game’s afoot,” he said cheerfully. “Keep talking.”
The bus started up again. Liv peered out into the dark as they passed the end of the road where the mad cyclist was concealed. His head was bent and she caught sight of his helmet. It looked like an insect casing.
She was saying that to Patrick when a car swung into the street and its headlights took the cyclist full in the face. He looked up for a moment and blinked, dazzled. In a second he had seen the bus, lowered his head again and set the bike in motion.
But she knew him.
“Oh, my God,” she said, recoiling.
“Liv? What is it? Liv? Talk to me.”
She sat down on the back seat, her heart galloping. “It’s one of the post interns that Simon brought into the Agency. I can’t remember his name. I hardly spoke to him. What on earth did I do to him?”
“Nothing,” said Patrick crisply. “Interns do what they’re told. Don’t waste time telling yourself this is your fault. Where’s the bus now? What can you see? Give me a running commentary, so I know how far I’ve got to go.”
She did. Across the aisle, the nurse took photos of the few people who got on the bus. Nobody objected. Actually, nobody even seemed to notice.
Lic wondered whether the cyclist would give up, now that his face had been revealed. But maybe he didn’t realise that it had been. Because there he was at the next bus stop, flying past the bus as it slowed and then holing up in a convenient patch of darkness to watch whether Liv got off.
She sat in the back of the bus, eyes peeled on the road behind. The bus driver was right. There was hardly anything on the road. And then she caught sight of a car speeding to catch up. As it got closer, she could see that it had the soft top down and the driver was wearing a pale scarf knotted round this neck. In spite of the scarf, he must be freezing.
Who on earth would drive an open-topped car on a freezing night like this?
Patrick Fell would. Doing everything he can to make his rescue vehicle recognisable. I think I’m going to cry.
No, I’m not.
But the panicky hamster wheel has stopped.
Liv drew in a long sigh and nodded to the nurse, indicating the car rapidly closing the gap behind them.
Her companion beamed. “Here come the cavalry.”
The bus stopped outside a gleaming steel and glass building. The brightly-lit reception area housed a wasteland of pale leather couches and a tall Christmas tree with painfully tasteful cream and silver decorations. The cyclist whipped round the front as usual, bounced up onto the pavement and disappeared down a windswept gap between two buildings.
Patrick cruised gently to a halt at the back of the bus.
The cyclist, thought Liv, probably never even noticed him. She turned to the nurse. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” A thought occurred to her. “Did you stay on the bus just to help me? Should you have got out sooner?”
“Well, I wanted to know what happened,” said the nurse, waving her thanks away. “Most exciting New Year’s Eve I’ve had in my life.”
Liv said, “Please let us take you home, then. Please.”
The woman looked at her narrowly, realised that Liv not only meant it, but this was important to her, and inclined her head graciously. “Then I would be glad to.”
Liv went up to bus driver. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. A Happy New Year to you both. Now, you ready to leave my bus?'”
Liv drew a deep breath. He pushed a button and the remote controlled doors lurched open. Liv stepped down into the night.
A dark figure with an ant-head helmet hurtled round the corner and butted her to the ground. She felt the impact through her whole body. Her elbow scraped painfully along the pavement and she couldn’t breathe. The Thing loomed over her muttering, “Give it back. You’ve got to give it back. He wants it back.”
Behind her, the nurse, still on the steps of a bus, let out a cry of shock and anger and surged forward.
And Patrick was there, with the black-clad, red-helmeted ant-creature struggling to get away from him.
Patrick slammed him up against the lighted window and used his whole body to keep him there.
“Who?” he said. “Who wants it back?”
But the Thing just kept muttering his mantra and writhing helplessly.
The nurse eyed him. “High as balls,” she said dispassionately. “Won’t get any sense out of him until he comes down.”
Liv got painfully to her feet.
“Simon,” she said shakily. “Simon appointed him. He’s got loads of connections. His name’s Duncan Something.”
“Duncan,” said the Thing muzzily. He stopped writhing so much and unzipped his windcheater to slide a hand inside. He drew something out and offered it to Liv with a half bow. “My card.”
Patrick gave a bark of laughter. “We have now lurched into farce.” He shook the Thing quite hard, but the ferocity had gone out of him. “I’ll take that,” he said twitching the card away and pocketing it. “Now, Duncan, you apologise to these two ladies, and then you go and apologise to the bus driver for cutting him up every chance you got. Then maybe he won’t run you off the road next time he sees you.”
The Thing muttered a wavering apology and staggered off towards the bus. Which pulled away as he reached it.
Patrick laughed again, this time as if he really was amused.
The nurse said, “Not calling the police?”
Patrick shrugged. “Not much point.”
She pursed her lips. “You’re right there.”
Liv held onto his arm. “I said we would take her home, Patrick.”
He turned and searched Liv’s face. “What?”
“She’s been so kind. Can we take her home? Please.”
I said WE. Why did I say we?
He’d heard it too. “We,” he said. “Yes, of course we will. We will.”
It’s not quite over yet. The conclusion is now available to read here