I awoke the next morning, tucked up in a very comfortable hospital bed, Andrea collapsed asleep in the large, high-backed chair next to my bed. I felt far better than I ought to, not that this gave me any real comfort as I knew I was going to have to either construct a sugar-spun creation of half-truth and deception or tell Andrea the truth and neither option filled me with glee. I was able to guess that I was in NNUH, for one thing the private room that I had been given was far nicer than anything at the Cromer hospital, but more than that it did seem as though I had experienced some emergency care for my stomach wound and Cromer hospital’s minor injury unit would not likely have been the ambulance crew’s first instinct when presented with the victim of an abdominal stabbing.
I pushed myself up in bed, enjoying the fact that I could feel my injury healing, while at the same time not being laid as low by it as a normal person would be. Overall it was a relief that the talisman I had been wearing for nearly sixty years actually worked as planned; it had allowed my body to heal the wounds which I would not be able to explain surviving and allowed the one that remained to be explanation of my unconsciousness and generally give a believable story to tell.
A few moments later a nurse bustled into the room sporting a gigantic smile and a disposable apron and latex gloves.
“Mr. Foster, you’re awake.”
I nodded gently, reflecting back her smile and trying very hard to have a mostly neutral demeanour with a dash of good humour.
“Let me get this out of the way, I’m not a fan. Too much sex and violence in your books for me, to be honest, but it’s nice to have someone a bit famous on the ward nonetheless. Anyway, lets have a look at yer dressin’ an’ that wound. I see yer friend is dead to the World.”
I looked over at Andrea and then back at the nurse
“I imagine that the whole experience has taken its toll on her. She’s the half-sister of my late wife and we had only just met for the first time.”
The nurse raised an eyebrow, but resisted the urge to say whatever it was that was knocking on the back of her teeth. Wound care was uncomplicated, the nurse clucking about how it would probably not even leave a scar and how lucky that Doctor Frederickson had been on duty in A&E, the best of all of the doctors when it came to suturing, apparently. She flicked me another smile as she tucked the sheets back in around me and then she was gone from the room as quickly as she had come. Andrea slept on.
It was the simultaneous arrival of the lunch cart, a pair of Police officers and the Registrar that finally roused her. I had been daydreaming, looking out of the window and watching the wind play with the branches of the trees that were set back a few metres from the building, and so the commotion as these three competing emissaries arrived at my door was a jolt back to the there and then. Initially there was an amount of jockeying for position, but it was clear that the lunch cart was actually going to win, and then that the Police would have to wait until after I had been seen by the Doctor. The chap running the lunch cart did not ask me what I wanted beyond the terse question of “Vegetarian?”, which I politely declined, and so a little order was restored once my tray was on the side table and the Doctor had been able to close the door and actually start talking. Roughly speaking in his early thirties, tired and stressed looking but very much alert nonetheless, he was every inch an NHS registrar, even down to the visible outline of a cigarette packet in the left-hand pocket of his trousers.
“Good morning, Mr. Foster, I am Doctor Reese, I’ll be looking after you until you are discharged. How are you feeling?”
He made very deliberate eye contact as he finished his question and seeing no need to evade his gaze I returned the focus before answering;
“Well, to be honest Doctor I don’t have much of a field of reference for comparison, but considering I was stabbed I feel pretty good.”
He chuckled at that, and picked up the chart at the end of the bed, quickly glancing at portions of if before looking back at me.
“Well I am glad that you’ve not lost your sense of humour, Mr. Foster, and there’s really nothing to be concerned about on here, but you should know that it was nearly a very different story. A couple of inches to the left and a lower angle of attack and you’d have been looking at a ruptured bowel at least, which is not pleasant let me tell you. Still, there’s no need to dwell on might-have-beens. We’ll want to keep you in for the rest of today and overnight, just to be sure that there is no infection and that your wound is healing properly, but with any luck we’ll have you out of here before lunchtime tomorrow. Do you have any questions for me?”
I shook my head, thanked him, and he headed out of the door, effectively tagging the Police officers to come on in. Andrea stirred with the opening and closing of the door and was straightening herself in the chair and brushing her hair out of her face when one of the two Police officers poked his head around the door to ask if he could come in. I waved him in and he disappeared for a split second and then was back with his partner in tow.
The younger, presumably more junior, officer was a little starry eyed as he followed his counterpart into the room, but I could not tell whether he was simply very green or if he knew who I was. The more senior officer cleared his throat and began to speak;
“Mr. Foster, thank you for agreeing to speak with us so soon after your ordeal. I am Constable Trent and this is my associate Constable Regus.”
He flashed a look at Andrea, who was now almost completely awake and composed;
“Good morning, madam”, looking back at me “Are you comfortable for us to ask you some questions with Ms. Richardson present, or would you prefer that my colleague escort her outside while you and I speak?”
Richardson? It dawned on me that Andrea had not told me her surname, but that Constable Trent was referring to her.
“Oh that’s fine Constable, I would rather Ms. Richardson stay unless she wishes to leave, to be honest with you.”
I nodded at Andrea and she nodded right back.
“Very well then, Sir. I need to ask you a few questions about the events of last night, is that ok?”
I nodded.
“You and Ms. Richardson had met for the first time at the Goblin Coffee House in Cromer, yesterday afternoon, is that right?”
“Well, yes, except that it’s The Goblin King’s Coffee Company, but yes we met there yesterday afternoon for the first time.”
“Goblin King’s Coffee Company”, Constable Trent repeated it out loud as he corrected his notes, ”And having made one another’s acquaintance and Ms. Richardson revealing her relationship to your late wife, you went on to offer her hospitality and you both returned to your home on Firkin Street to talk and share a takeaway meal of the Chinese persuasion?”
“Yes, that’s quite correct, Constable.”
“Excellent, so after dining and an extended period of conversation you decided between the two of you to pop out to the Red Lion for a drink before closing time, I have from Ms. Richardson that this was her suggestion but that you were not in need of convincing?”
“Yes, that’s quite right. We had been discussing the events surrounding my wife’s death and the idea of being around people and noise and merriment and so forth was appealing as a contrast. I thought that it was an excellent idea.”
Constable Trent nodded, making more notes. I noticed that Constable Regus was eye-balling Andrea quite intently throughout and wondered if he had been briefed by Trent to try and ascertain if there was any reaction from her at any point that might suggest any kind of disparity between her version of events, which they had presumably received last night while I was still out, and mine.
“So you were walking to the Red Lion, down Wheeler Street at approximately twenty-two hundred hours when an unknown assailant appeared from Spinner’s Yard and immediately attacked you, with a knife?”
“Is that the name of the alley, I had no idea.”
“Er, yes, Sir. The alley about ninety feet from the Red Lion on Wheeler Street is indeed called Spinner’s Yard.”
“Right, well yes, in that case you have described events precisely to my recollection.”
Constable Trent nodded and scribbled in his notebook.
“I apologise, Sir, this may be a difficult question, but do you recall how many times you were stabbed?”
I made a conscious effort not to look at Andrea before I answered, there was definitely an agenda in this line of questioning and I needed to start confounding that, or this was very quickly going to become much more complicated than I wanted it to.
“I have to be honest, Constable, I don’t really remember anything to do with the attack with any real clarity, but I can only assume that I was stabbed once as I appear to have only one stab wound.”
Trent flashed a look at Regus and at Andrea, then turned his attention back to me and his notebook and made a note.
“I completely understand, Sir, and do you have any other recollection at all before you came to here?”
I paused, hoping to give the impression of consideration and an attempt to recall events;
“I have a dim recollection of falling to the ground, and of reaching out towards Ms. Richardson, but they are flashes, nothing more. I am sorry, Constable.”
He nodded once again.
“Just one more thing, Mr. Foster, did you manage to see anything of your attacker’s face or did anything specific catch your eye at all? Really almost any detail might be crucial in assisting us in identifying the assailant.”
Bradshaw’s green van popped up in my mind’s eye, that tiny little detail that had been the key to finding him, and I wanted to smile with the satisfaction of the memory, but I realised that a smile would not work well in the current situation, so I pushed it back down and tried to focus on the genuinely blurry memories that I did have of my attacker. I let my mind go back to the moment the knife first plunged into my chest, but all I could remember was the pain and a hooded head, face wrapped in shadow. The sickening, loosening feeling as the blade was pulled out and back away from me and my eyes were drawn to it rather than the person wielding it, and I watched as it flew back down towards me and then the pain once more as it punctured my neck and slid through my windpipe until the tip was actually poking out into the air on the other side. I pushed my mind to tighten the focus, to try and remember something as the knife was pulled back again before the final strike at my stomach; did I see the face? I reached for the memory, pushing through the noise of pain and fear and the metallic smell of blood but I could not quite rest on the moment. I let the recollection continue, the knife in my belly and out and the weakness that followed and my uncontrollable fall to the floor. I could see the fear on Andrea’s face. I could feel the attacker’s presence over me and I could feel their intent, that they were going to do to her what they had done to me, and then nothing, just darkness. I had wanted to be able to give Trent something, but there was nothing there to give.
“I’m sorry, Constable, but I am afraid it’s all just a blur.”
Trent nodded and put away his notebook.
“Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Foster, we will be in touch and I hope with news that we have a suspect, but I must be honest it’s not a given. Can we reach you at your Cromer address for the foreseeable future?”
I nodded, then added;
“And Ms. Richardson will be staying with me there for a few days at least as well.”
“Very good, Sir and thank you again.”
He flicked his head to Regus and they were on their way.