31

It was a feeble attempt. My legs gave way immediately, dumping me onto the hallway floor as the chair clattered onto its side behind me. The sudden movement had set the room spinning again. I squeezed my eyes shut as it canted at a crazy angle, any hope of rebellion swiftly ended.

‘Oh, David, David,’ Henry said, sadly.

I lay there as the floor wheeled and swooped, helplessly waiting for the prick of the needle and the final blackness that would follow it. Nothing came. I opened my eyes, tried to focus on him through the vertigo. He was staring down at me with something like concern, the syringe held uncertainly in one hand.

‘You’re only making it worse. If I give you this it’ll kill you. Please don’t make me.’

‘Going to anyway…’ I slurred.

I tried to push myself up. There was no strength in my arms, and the sudden exertion had set my head pounding. I collapsed back to the floor as a haze began to creep into my vision. Through it I saw Henry reach down and take hold of my wrist. I had no strength to pull free, could only watch as he put the needle against the soft skin of my forearm. I tried to ready myself, determined to resist the drug even though I knew it would be futile.

But Henry didn’t depress the syringe. Slowly, he took it away again.

‘I can’t, not like this,’ he mumbled.

He tucked the syringe back in his pocket. The mist was spreading across my vision now, darkening the hallway. I felt consciousness drifting away again. No! I resisted but it slipped through my fingers no matter how hard I tried to hold on. The world disappeared except for a huge, rhythmic booming. I dimly recognized it as my heartbeat.

From a long way away, I felt myself being lifted. I became aware of a sense of movement. I opened my eyes, shut them again as a shifting kaleidoscope of colours and shapes brought a queasy wave of nausea. I fought it down, determined not to black out again. There was a bump, and then I felt cool air against my face. I opened my eyes to see an indigo night sky domed above me. Its stars and constellations seemed crystal bright, appearing and disappearing behind the torn clouds that raced across it on invisible winds.

I breathed deeply, trying to clear my head. Ahead of me was the Land Rover. The chair was bumping towards it unevenly, its wheels crunching over the driveway’s gravel. Now my senses seemed to have been honed to an uncanny clarity. I heard the rustle of branches in the wind, smelled the loamy scent of wet earth. The scratches and mud splashes on the Land Rover seemed as big as continents.

The drive was on an incline, and I could hear Henry panting as he struggled to push me up it. He went around to the back of the car and stopped, gasping for breath. I knew I should try to move, but the knowledge didn’t seem to extend to my limbs. When he’d recovered, Henry began making his way around the chair, supporting himself on it until he could transfer his grip to the car. He moved awkwardly, his legs wooden and rigid. He swung open the Land Rover’s single rear door and lowered himself until he was sitting down on the back edge. He was drenched in sweat, his exhausted pallor visible even in the moonlight.

He looked up, chest heaving for breath. A weak smile touched his face when he saw me.

‘You… you with us again?’ Still sitting on the inside edge of the Land Rover, he leaned towards me. I felt his hands under my arms. ‘Last leg, now, David. Up we get.’

Years of pushing himself about in the wheelchair had given him considerable upper body strength, and he used it now to lift me again. I thrashed weakly against him. He grunted, taking firmer hold. As he hauled me from the chair I grabbed hold of the car door. I clung on to it, so that it swung with me.

‘Come, David, don’t be stupid,’ he gasped, trying to prise me off it.

I kept hold, grimly.

‘Look, bloody let go!’

He wrenched me free, cracking my head against the edge of the door. The impact jarred me, and then I was being laid out on the hard metal floor in the back of the Land Rover.

‘Oh, God, David, I didn’t mean to do that,’ Henry said. He took out a handkerchief, began to dab at my forehead. The cloth came away glistening darkly. Henry stared at it, then leaned against the doorframe and covered his eyes. ‘Christ, what a bloody mess.’

My head hurt savagely, but it was a clean pain, almost refreshing after the drug-induced mist. ‘Don’t… Henry, don’t do this…’

‘Do you think I want to? I just want it to end now. That’s not too much to ask, is it?’ He swayed, wearily. ‘God, I’m so tired. I was going to drive you down to the lake and finish this there. Take the boat over and see to Mason. But I really don’t think I can manage that now.’

He reached behind me into the Land Rover’s shadowy interior. When he straightened he was holding a length of rubber hosepipe.

‘I salvaged this from the garden while you were out. Don’t think Mason will be needing it any more.’ The grim attempt at humour was short-lived. He seemed to sag. ‘It’ll be messier if they find you here, but there’s nothing else for it. With a bit of luck everyone will assume it was suicide. Not perfect, but it’ll have to do.’

The light was cut off as Henry slammed the Land Rover’s back door. I heard him lock it, then he was moving around outside the car. I tried to sit up but dizziness swept over me again. I put my hand out to steady myself and touched something rough and solid. A blanket. I saw there was something underneath it and with a cold shock I realized what it was.

Jenny.

She was huddled on the floor behind the passenger seat. In the near-darkness only the blonde cap of her hair was visible. It was dark and matted. She wasn’t moving.

‘Jenny! Jenny!’

There was no response as I pulled the blanket from her head. Her skin was icy. Oh God, no, please God.

The driver’s door suddenly opened. Henry grunted as he eased himself into the seat.

‘Henry… Please, help me.’

My voice was drowned out as he started the engine. It settled into a dull grumble. Henry cracked open the driver’s window slightly, then twisted round to look at me. In the darkness it was difficult to make out his face.

‘I’m sorry, David. Truly. But I can’t see any other way.’

‘For God’s sake!’

‘Goodbye, David.’

Awkwardly, he levered himself out and slammed the door. A moment later something snaked through the gap at the top of the window.

It was the rubber hose. And now I understood why he’d left the engine running.

‘Henry!’ I called, fear giving strength to my voice. I caught a glimpse of him passing the windscreen, heading back towards the house. I squirmed around and tried to open the rear door, even though it was locked. It didn’t budge. I thought I could smell the exhaust fumes already. Come on! Think! I began dragging myself towards the cab, where the rubber pipe was jutting through the window. The impassable barricade of the driver and passenger seats rose up before me. I tried to use them to pull myself up and felt the fog closing in on me. I collapsed weakly into the back again. No! Don’t black out! I turned my head, saw the still unmoving shape of Jenny, and fought off the rising blackness.

I tried again. There was a slim gap between the seats. I succeeded in hooking my arm through it and managed to heave myself partway up. I could feel unconsciousness hovering behind my eyes, threatening to engulf me again. I paused, my heart hammering painfully, until it had passed. I heaved myself further up, clenching my teeth as the Land Rover seemed to yaw and pitch under me. Come on! Now I was wedged partway through the gap, my chest resting on the utility box fixed between the seats. The car keys hung in the ignition, but they might as well have been a mile away. I groped for the window control, knowing even that was too far. Head spinning, I looked at where the dark mouth of the rubber pipe gaped obscenely. I’d no idea if I could reach it before I was overcome by the fumes. And even if I did, what then? Henry would simply put it back, assuming he didn’t just lose patience and use the rest of the diamorphine on me.

But I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I grabbed hold of the handbrake and used it to haul myself further into the gap between the seats, and as I did I saw Henry framed in the windscreen in front of me. He was leaning heavily on the wheelchair, his exhaustion evident as he slowly pushed it back towards the house.

I was still gripping the handbrake. Without pausing to think, I let it off.

I felt the Land Rover shift slightly. But even though the driveway sloped down towards the house it didn’t move. I threw my weight forward, trying to break the inertia that held the car in place, but it had no effect. My gaze fell on the automatic transmission. It was nestling in park as the engine idly pumped its exhaust into the cab.

I strained forward and pushed the lever into drive.

The Land Rover rolled forward smoothly. I was still wedged between the seats, and through the windscreen I saw Henry hear its approach. He looked back, his mouth opening in surprise. Even as the car gathered speed on the slope there seemed ample time for him to get out of its way. But perhaps he’d already used up all his reserves, or his wasted legs simply couldn’t respond quickly enough. For a moment our eyes met, and then the Land Rover struck him.

There was a thud and Henry disappeared. I felt a sickening bump, then another. Off balance, I groped for the handbrake as the house suddenly loomed up in the windscreen, but I was too slow. With a loud bang the car jolted to a halt. I was pitched forward and lay stunned across one of the seats. The engine continued to rumble. I reached up and turned off the ignition. Then, taking out the key, I managed to fumble open the door.

Cold, fresh air flooded in. I gulped it greedily as I tumbled onto the drive. I lay panting on the sharp gravel for a moment while I gathered my strength. Then, rolling over onto all fours, I used the Land Rover to pull myself up. Supporting myself on it in much the same way Henry had done, I made my way around to the back.

He lay a few yards away, a dark shape lying unmoving next to the broken wheelchair. But there was no time to think about him. I managed to get the key into the lock and open the door, then climbed into the back to Jenny.

She hadn’t moved. My hands were uncoordinated as I tore the blanket from her. Please, please, be alive. Her skin was pale and cold, but she was still breathing, the tell-tale acetone odour treacherously sweet. Thank God. I wanted to hug her, give her some of my warmth, but she was in urgent need of far more than that.

I slid out of the car and stood up. It was easier this time, the adrenalin and desperation helping counter the waning effect of the drug. The front door to the house was still open, a rectangle of light spilling from it. I lurched into the hallway. Bracing myself against the wall, I staggered towards the telephone table that Henry had supported himself on earlier. I almost fell over the chair next to it, but managed to stay upright. Knowing if I sat down I might never get up again, I remained standing as I pawed for the phone. I couldn’t remember Mackenzie’s number, and my fingers were thick and uncooperative as I dialled 999.

A sudden spasm of dizziness shook me as the operator answered. I closed my eyes against it as I began to speak. I made an effort to concentrate as I gave the details, aware that Jenny’s life depended on my making sense. I took care over enunciating the words ’emergency’ and ‘diabetic coma’, but then I could hear myself starting to ramble. When the operator started asking more questions I let the phone drop back into the cradle. I’d intended to go to the fridge for the insulin, but as I clung to the sideboard, struggling to stay upright as my vision came and went, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it. And even if I did, I daren’t attempt injecting her in the state I was in.

Rolling like a drunk, I went back outside. A sudden tiredness threatened to overwhelm me as I lumbered over to the Land Rover. Jenny was lying on her side where I’d left her, her face terribly still and white. Even from where I stood I could hear that her breathing had grown worse. It was wheezing and uneven and far, far too fast.

‘David.’

Henry’s voice was a mere whisper. I turned to look at him. He hadn’t moved, but now his head was turned towards me. His clothes glistened, dark and wet with blood. The pale gravel around him was stained with it. In the half-light I could see that his eyes were open.

‘Said you were… dark horse…’

I started to turn back to Jenny.

‘Please…’

I didn’t want to look back. I hated him, not just for what he’d done, or even what he’d turned out to be, but for what I now knew he wasn’t. Still, I hesitated. Even now, looking back, I’m not sure what I might have done.

But at that moment Jenny stopped breathing.

The sound of it simply cut off. For a moment I just stared at her, unable to move as I waited for the next breath to follow. None did. I scrambled into the back of the car.

‘Jenny? Jenny!’

Her head fell back as I turned her over. Her eyes were partly open, half-moons of white lined with achingly beautiful lashes. I felt frantically for a pulse. There was nothing.

‘No!’

This couldn’t be happening, not now. Panic almost paralysed me. Think. Think! Adrenalin helped clear my head as I rolled Jenny onto her back, then snatched up the blanket and wadded it up under her neck. I’d practised CPR during training, but never used it. Come on! Cursing my awkwardness, I tilted her head back, clamped her nose and jammed clumsy fingers into her mouth to clear her tongue. My own head swam as I lowered it to her lips, breathed my own air into her – once, twice – then put my hands on her breastbone and began to rhythmically press and count.

Come on, come on! I begged, silently. I breathed into her mouth again, went back to pumping her lungs. Repeated it. She lay limp and unresponsive. I was weeping now, my vision blurring as I continued to work on her, trying to will her heart back to life. Her body remained slack and lifeless.

Useless.

I forced the knowledge from my head, breathed into her mouth once more, then counted as I pressed rapidly down on her chest. I did it again. And again.

She’s gone.

No! I raged, denying it. Blinded by tears, I continued to work on her. The world was reduced to thoughtless repetition. Breathe, press, count. Breathe, press, count.

I lost track of time. I wasn’t even aware of the approach of sirens or the headlights that splashed through the car. Nothing else existed except for Jenny’s still and cold body, and my desperate rhythm. Even when I felt hands on me I refused to give it up.

‘No! Get off me!’

I tried to fight them, but I was pulled back, out of the Land Rover and away from Jenny. The driveway outside the house was a confusion of flashing lights and vehicles. As the paramedics ushered me towards an ambulance, the last of my strength crumbled. I collapsed onto the gravel. Mackenzie’s face appeared in front of me. I could see him mouthing questions, but paid him no attention. There was a flurry of activity around the Land Rover.

Then, out of the confusion, I heard the words that almost stopped my own heart.

‘It’s no good. We’re too late.’

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