He left work and headed back towards home and the hospital. Home was nearer, but he wanted to give the police plenty of time to finish up, so he wouldn’t be hanging around. Instead, he went on to the hospital.
Having used the hospital car park before, and knowing how expensive it was, he parked at a car park in the centre of town. He grabbed an umbrella from the boot of the car, light drizzle became heavier as he walked the short distance up the hill to the hospital.
At least he was dry when he walked through the doors for the third time in two days. Despite this, he probably looked even worse now than on his previous visit. His clothes were seriously out of shape, having suffered from careless abandon the night before, and from the soaking they’d received earlier in the day. He folded the umbrella and went straight through to the block where Toni was being looked after. On arrival in the ward, a few minutes later, he went up to the nurse’s station.
All the nurses must have been busy because there was no-one there. After a minutes wait no one else had appeared. It seemed that a search, deeper into the ward, would be necessary.
A door to one of the side wards was open, a patient was being tended to by a nurse and another blue clad woman who appeared to be overseeing things. Probably a consultant or doctor, he thought. He decided to go straight back to Toni’s room, opened the door slowly in order not to disturb Toni or anyone else, and was surprised to see that the room was anything but empty. A nurse with a clip-board was checking Toni’s pulse, and a WPC was sat in a chair beside Toni’s bed. They both looked in his direction. Another new nurse, so he had to introduce himself again.
The WPC scribbled something in a note book that had been lying on her lap.
“How is she?” Scott asked.
“She is still very poorly, but woke up for a while earlier. The doctors have reduced her medication, so she might come round again any time.”
“Has she said anything?” He was really asking the nurse, but the police constable replied.
“She has not been very lucid, but she has called your name.” His heart soared at this news. “She has also been saying something about chickens, but I’m not too sure what she’s trying to say. She could be dreaming, or trying to tell us something. It hasn’t made a lot of sense.” The WPC was a young attractive woman, but the way her hair was pulled back detracted from her looks. She had a long neck that required either some jewellery or a long hair line to set it off to its best effect.
“You need to tell your boss. I think it could be important. Was there anything else?”
She looked at her note book, but didn’t want to say anything else. It all looked like gibberish, and she wasn’t sure what she had heard. He tried again.
“I know it sounds funny, but chickens are actually very important, so although it may not sound important to you, it might mean something to me. Please can I have a look?
She thought about it for a moment, and then must have decided there would be no harm done, as she held out the note pad with the appropriate page to view.
Scott shook slightly as he held the bottom of the note pad, the constable still holding the top edge. Toni had called his name, and called “Mummy”. The words “CHICKEN” and “CAN’T FIGHT” were clearly written and underlined. The rest was a bit of a mess. The constable had written “WHAT ON?”, and then crossed it through and written “WHAT’S ON?” Beneath this, as an after-thought, she had written “WATSON ?” On the right hand side of the pad she had the words “SWOFFEN TIMES”. She had not crossed this out, but had obviously been trying to rationalise this, as she had written a few variations on the lines below. That was all she had, but it was far more than he’d imagined.
He knew straight away what these jottings represented. “You need to tell Hargreaves and Jones straight away.” He pointed to her pad. “That word is Watton, it’s the name of a small town in Norfolk. Somehow it IS important. And the other word is Swaffham, another town in Norfolk, so she must have been trying to tell us about the Swaffham Times. I guess it’s a local newspaper. Toni obviously thinks it’s important.”
The constable took back her pad and noted down the new variants of the words she had written. She did not seem in any hurry to do anything about it, so Scott started to boil over from all of the frustration and worry.
“Come on! Do something.” He wasn’t quite shouting, but it was getting close. The nurse took his arm.
“Mr Holland, please calm down.”
“I AM calm.” He insisted, too vehemently. “So, don’t tell me to calm down.”
“Sir, If I might explain.” The constable began.
“Scott? Is that you?” They all looked round together. The nurse released his arm and went over to Toni’s side. The words had been slurred because of the dressing around her cheek. No wonder the constable hadn’t been too certain of what she had heard.
“Yes, it’s me.” He leaned closer too. Her eyes were still closed, and she looked very hot. He guessed her body was working over-time to try and fix itself.
“Help me! Too many chickens! Help!” The last “help” was more of a whimper, and she was quiet once more.
“Can I please stay with her?” Scott asked, no animosity in his voice.
“Yes, I think that would be a good idea. I’ll fetch you a chair.”
“I’ve been told not to leave her side, until she is able to give us more details.” The police woman tried to explain. “And I can’t contact the station without leaving the ward.”
“Don’t worry, I’m here, if she says anything I’ll let you know. And I’m sorry for losing my temper, It’s...”
“I understand, you must be very worried. However, I’m afraid I can’t leave you with Miss Barnaby. At the moment you are a suspect, and I would not be able to rely on your evidence. I’m sorry, but it will have to wait until I can return to the station.”
Scott understood her position, but had another idea.
“OK, I’ll see if I can contact Hargreaves or Jones. What is your name?”
“It’s Hamilton, but if you’re thinking of reporting me..”
“Oh no! I just want to be able to tell the detectives who I’m with, so they can check what I tell them.”
He went out into the corridor, and was about to leave the ward, when he heard the nurse calling.
“Mr Barnaby!” She had his name wrong, probably thought they were married. He turned as the nurse approached.
“Mr Barnaby, I wanted to talk to you about your wife.”
“Yes, of course, what is it.” He couldn’t be bothered to correct her. Even though she’d used his correct name just five minutes earlier.
“Toni was showing some improvement so we reduced the amount of pain-killers we’ve been giving her. Unfortunately, it seems that one of her wounds has become infected. Her body is fighting the infection, and we have started giving her antibiotics, but her temperature is very high, which might explain why she seems delirious. We’ll know more in the next few hours. It would certainly help if she has a friendly face here for when she comes round again.”
It took a moment to digest this information, while they stood in silence. The last thing he wanted to hear was that she had a hospital bug or drug resistant infection. “Do you know what the infection is?”
“Not yet, but we’re not taking any chances. She is getting the best possible care.”
Before leaving the ward, he took some of the cleansing gel for his hands, and ventured down one of the long corridors back towards the hospital entrance. He turned his mobile phone back on. The number of the police station would still be in his phone from when he had called them before, but instead of calling either Hargreaves or Jones at the station he called his home number and got lucky. The phone was answered by a male voice that he assumed was another police officer. The office passed the phone over to Jones, who seemed a little bewildered by the call.
“Mr Holland, why are you calling your own home?
“I know it was a long shot, but I needed to speak to you.”
“Did the station tell you I was here?”
“No, I decided to try here first.”
“Well, the police station would be the usual place.”
“I know, but you’re not at the police station. I have something to tell you.”
“Hang on.” The detective dipped into his pockets for a notepad and pen. “Ok, proceed.”
Scott explained to Jones what WPC Hamilton had written on her pad, emphasised that it was Hamilton that had heard these things, and explained to him the implication of the jottings. He also told him that Toni had said there were ‘too many chickens’, when she had come round.
“Too many chickens.” Jones repeated.
“That’s right. Not one chicken, but ‘too many’. This all started because of the chicken at work. There must be a connection with this company in Watton and the chicken in the office.”
“That’s a big assumption Mr Holland. Best to leave the detective work to us.”
“Don’t you think it’s too much of a coincidence? Toni gets attacked at home, the chicken at work goes missing, and Toni starts having nightmares about chickens?”
“Chickens, Mr Holland. Not youths, not burglars or drug addicts. There aren’t too many chickens on the police national computer. Perhaps we could try Interpol?”
Scott didn’t like sarcasm, but the detective had made a valid point. “Well Francoise had to come from somewhere, maybe you should try Inter-poultry!”
He hung up, and was about to turn his phone off and head back into the ward when it bleeped. There was a voice-mail message. Someone must have called while he had his phone turned off. He rang the voice-mail number, there were two messages. The first was Debbie. He wasn’t expecting the message to be very important, so nearly cut it off, but she sounded serious, so he listened all the way through. It seemed that the police had tried to get in touch with Francoise, but there was no one at the address she had given them, quite strange considering that Francoise was supposed to be off sick. Debbie suggested that Scott call her, as she had more to tell him.
The second message was from Toni’s ex husband. He swore under his breath because he had forgotten to call her family, being too wrapped up in his own problems. Toni’s ex said he had been contacted by the police, was going to get in touch with their two sons, and they’d all get to the hospital as soon as they could. Surprisingly, he asked if Scott needed anything. His image of him had been prejudiced by what Toni had told him, as he personally didn’t know him very well. Scott returned the call but the phone was engaged and tripped over to a voice-mail service, so he left a message.
“Scott here, thanks for asking, but I’ll be OK. How are the boys? I’m at the hospital now, so I’ll see you when you get here. Thanks, bye.”
He thought about Debbie’s message. Was she just looking for an excuse to talk to him? He decided it was not worth taking the risk, so pulled out the post-it note she had given him, and dialled her mobile number.
She answered almost immediately, even though she must still be at work.
“Hi Scott, how are things?”
“OK I guess.” He didn’t mean it, but also didn’t want to go into the detail.
“Is Toni any better.” This wasn’t going to be easy!
“They say there are signs of improvement.”
“That’s good.” She paused. “There’s something else though, isn’t there?”
“They say she has an infection, to one of her wounds, but they’ve put her on antibiotics to get rid of it.”
“Do they know...?”
“No! What was your news?”
“OK, I get the message. Did I tell you that the police couldn’t contact Francoise?”
“Yes, but you said there was something else.”
“The police managed to get into Francoise’s flat. It doesn’t sound as though anyone’s been living there. There’s a suitcase full of clean clothes in the bedroom. The landlord hasn’t seen Francoise ‘cos he’s never needed to. The rent gets paid every month by Gladwell, and there’s never been any complaints from the neighbours.”
“The police asked if we’ve got any other information, so I gave them a number for HR in Germany.”
He was amazed that she had managed to get the police to tell her so much, but didn’t say so, she could certainly be very charming, instead he said ‘goodbye’, hung up and went back into the ward.
PC Hamilton was still there, sat patiently, notepad resting on her lap. He dropped into the other chair that the nurse had provided, and they both watched Toni, who did not look comfortable, and was breathing heavily. The nurse came back to check on Toni every half an hour, jotting down readings on the chart. At some stage he must have fallen asleep because he was woken by conversation, another constable had arrived, and PC Hamilton was updating him on the situation. She said she was going to have a rest and get some food, and would be back within the hour.
Before she went, Scott quickly asked if Toni had said anything else, but there was no more news. The new constable settled into Hamilton’s chair and took over the vigil. Having been woken up, and feeling somewhat ashamed he went to check on Toni. The policeman leaned forward to see what he was doing. Scott brushed Toni’s forehead with his hand, she was very hot, her hands and arms were bandaged apart from her finger tips, so he just held her fingers in his.
Suddenly the room was filled with music. Totally confused, it was a moment before he realised his phone was ringing. He pulled it out of his pocket and cancelled the call recognising the number, it was Debbie again.
Feeling a little stupid for forgetting to turn his phone off, he left the ward and went along the corridor again to return the call. Once more, she answered straight away.
“Hi Scott, I’ve just left you a voice-mail, I thought maybe you were trying to avoid me.”
“No, sorry, it honestly wasn’t that. How are you?”
“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I’ve got some very interesting news, do you want to meet up for a drink?”
“A drink?” He hesitated, looking at his watch as a reflex action. “I’m not sure that...”
“How about the Royal Oak, it’s on the main road between work and your place. I’ll finish up and see you there.”