Clean Cut(4)
Author:Lynda La Plante


    Wheeling him out of the ward and down to the car park, he carried on complaining about the bloody place and how glad he was to be getting the hell out of it. Next, she had the pleasure of helping him into her Mini; again, he muttered about her having such a small car, saying that was the reason he found it difficult to get from the wheelchair into the passenger seat. Anna could see how much it pained him to stand and then ease himself into the seat, his face twisting with agony and his breath rasping. She even had to help him with his seat-belt, as he was unable to turn his body to draw the strap around himself.

    The drive down the M4 was just as hard going: he went into a rant about having to be shipped out to ‘fucking no hopers’ Glebe House’. Few, he maintained, were there as victims of injury. Most of the men there were time-wasters, he grumbled, or nutters who couldn’t stand the strain, or had booze problems.

    ‘Well, you’ll get on well with them,’ she tried to joke, but he wasn’t amused. He snapped that he’d not had a drink in weeks, and that he was sick and tired of her insinuating that he had any kind of problem.

    Changing the subject, she promised that, as soon as he felt stronger, he could come home and she would care for him there.

    ‘Christ, I’ll go mental in that small flat of yours.’

    ‘Well, if we have to, we’ll get a bigger place.’

    He glared and then gave a derisive snort, muttering about where the money would come from. In case she’d forgotten, he only rented his flat.

    Nothing she could say could make his dark mood lift; not once had he thanked her for arranging extended leave to be able to spend time with him at the hospital, nor acknowledged that she would now have to give up every weekend to drive back and forth to Glebe House.

    He was rude to the staff who greeted him and helped him from the car into the waiting wheelchair. He was stony silent as they tried to make conversation, wheeling him through the reception area and towards the lift to the wing where he would be staying. His room overlooked the gardens; although small, it was bright and pleasant, but he glared around as if it was a prison cell.

    After they had both been shown around, it was obvious that he was very tired, so they returned to his room. He had been asked to choose his dinner from a menu; he left it to Anna. He lay on the small bed, eyes closed.

    ‘I’m going to go off now,’ she said quietly. He made no response. She was sitting in an easy chair by the bed, and she took his hand. ‘I have to get back.’

    His fingers tightened on hers. ‘When are you coming again?’

    She leaned forwards to kiss his cheek. ‘Tomorrow, and I’ll be here as often as I can.’

    ‘What time tomorrow?’

    ‘Lunch; we’ll have lunch together.’

    ‘Okay.’

    Still his eyes were closed, but his grip had not lessened on her hand. She waited; slowly, his fingers relaxed.

    She inched open the door and crept out of the room, not wanting to wake him; then looked back towards him.

    ‘I love you,’ she said softly.

    His eyes opened. In his gruff voice, he said, ‘You want some advice? Don’t come back. You get your own life on track. I’m just going to be a noose around your neck. I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I’ve got no strength left, Anna, and I don’t know if I am going to get out of this one. Maybe I am not going to make it back to work.’

    She went back to his side and leaned over him, but he closed his eyes.

    ‘Look at me,’ she said. Then: ‘Just you damned well look at me, Detective Chief Inspector James Langton!’

    He looked up into her face.

    ‘You are going to get well and you are going to get out of here! They won’t have you here for more than a few weeks anyway, so just stop talking like some bloody loser. You make damned sure you are fit to come home to me, or I will move in here with you and make your life hell!’

    ‘Can’t be worse than it already is,’ he muttered.

    ‘Oh yes, it can. If you don’t help yourself, nobody else will. It’s up to you now. I just wish you could stop being in such a foul fucking mood and start trying to be a bit pleasant to people around you, because all they are trying to do is help you. They love you, they respect you–and they want you back!’

    ‘Yeah, yeah, I hear you, but you have no idea what it feels like to be me. I hate being like this–I hate it! I can’t get the strength up to even fucking walk by myself.’

    ‘I’m going–I refuse to listen to you. Did you hear me? I’m off.’

    ‘Go on then,’ he snapped.

    ‘No, I won’t, not until you—’

    ‘Until I what, Anna!? Get up and tango across the floor? I can’t walk, I can’t breathe properly and I’ve got pains in every part of my body. You tell me, what would you do?’

    She leaned close again.

    ‘I would fight every minute of every day to get my strength back, fight to get back to work so I could catch the son of a bitch that did this to me. That’s what I would do.’

    He reached out and drew her close, kissing her. ‘You take care driving back, now. You were over the speed-limit more times than I could count.’

    She could feel the tears welling up. ‘Goodbye, see you tomorrow.’

    ‘Thank you, Anna. I know I don’t say it as much as I should do, but thank you.’

    ‘I’d do anything for you, you know that.’

    ‘Yeah, but I reckon you wouldn’t change places with me.’ He smiled.

    It was the first time she had seen him smile since they had left the hospital–that smile of his that never ceased to touch her heart. She kissed him again. ‘I love you.’

    She was out quickly this time, not wanting to prolong it again; she didn’t want him to see her getting upset. She left so quickly that she didn’t see the tears well in his eyes as he began to weep.



    Anna had no one she could confide in. The strain of the past weeks had taken its toll. She looked dreadful, and had lost a considerable amount of weight with worry. Often, two or three times a day, she had driven to the hospital and back, and would stay late into the night beside him. She had let everything else go. She had not cleaned her flat or done any washing, so that was all stacked up. She had not cooked for herself, but eaten at the hospital or ordered takeaways. When she got back from Glebe House that first day, she flopped down on her bed and lay there for ten minutes before forcing herself to get up and get organized.

    Anna spent the next two hours hoovering, washing and making shopping lists. It was after eleven when she showered and finally got into bed with clean fresh sheets. She was asleep within minutes. It was the first night she had slept soundly for weeks. The fact that Jimmy was being cared for at Glebe House made her less stressed. She knew by the following week she would be back at work; on which murder enquiry, she didn’t yet know, but it was strange to think she had not even thought about work during the entire time Langton had been hospitalized.


    SIX WEEKS AND FIVE DAYS

    Anna woke refreshed and was out very early doing a marathon grocery shop. She bought mounds of fruit to take to him, as well as stocking up her freezer and fridge. By ten, she had unpacked everything, eaten a good breakfast and arranged to have her hair cut and blow-dried. Having spent no time on herself over the past few weeks, she now enjoyed the luxury of having a pedicure and a manicure. She returned home at two, feeling so much better.

    She tried on a couple of different outfits before she was satisfied; the weight loss was the only good thing about all this. She was only five feet four and was always intending to try to lose some weight; with the trauma of Langton’s attack and the fear for his recovery, she had shed pounds. She decided she would start going to the gym for a workout a few mornings a week, or maybe visit the local swimming baths. She had always loved swimming, and remembered the day when her mother had suggested she cut off her long plaits so her hair didn’t take up so much time to wash and dry. Anna had cried; she hadn’t wanted to have her hair cut. Eleven years old, sitting in the salon, she had been heartbroken when her thick, wavy red hair was chopped and shaped into a bob. However, she had not been unhappy with the result–quite the reverse. The short hair had framed her heart-shaped face and the fringe accentuated her wide blue eyes. The smattering of freckles that, even now, were visible across her snub nose no haircut could hide, but she had hardly changed the style. She never wore much make-up, but she now made herself up with care, putting on a light-brown eye shadow and mascara, with a pale coral lipstick. Giving herself a good once-over in the bathroom mirror, she couldn’t help but smile. She had lovely white even teeth; all the months she had worn braces as a child had paid off. Anna had come a long way from being the rather dumpy, red-haired, freckle-faced kid with glinting braces. She was very much a woman.

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