“Tell me quick,” said Lois.
“His name is Ross, well, sometimes Ross, and his sister lives down by the canal. He’s no good, never has been. Mixed up with drugs and more than likely responsible for the death of that addict girl what was in the paper recently. In trouble for lurking outside school gates. Here, I’ve written down the rest. Addresses and so on. Go on, put it in yer bag. Jamie’s coming back.”
“Thanks, Dot,” Lois said, and then turned around to Jamie. “This is a good cause, son,” she said. “It won’t be long before me and your dad will need its help.”
All three laughed politely, and then Dot was nobbled by a friend from Sebastopol Street.
“Come on, Mum,” Jamie said. “Let’s get a coffee and a huge, creamy chocolate éclair. Do they still have them over in the Royal Café?
“Why else would I bring you to market?” Lois said, with a sideways glance at him.
“Huh,” he said, and took her arm. “There’s no answer to that, Mrs. M,” he added fondly.
CHRIS SAT IN A WARD SIDE ROOM TALKING GENTLY TO JACK JR. HE had been allowed out of bed, and told everyone who passed how completely better he was. “Nothing wrong with me now,” he shouted to the doctor who was doing his rounds.
“Hush, Jack,” Chris said. “You still need to be careful. Nothing worse than a relapse.”
“I thought that was something old women get?” he said, with an innocent expression. Chris was about to correct him, and then realised that he knew anyway. A tricky one, this.
“Before we talk about Saturday,” she said, “I think you might like to know the likely cause of the death of the man Ross.”
“Never heard of him,” Jack said.
“The one you crashed into. I expect you know he sadly died, but maybe you don’t know what killed him?”
Jack’s heart began to pound. Here it came, and he crossed his fingers behind his back and hoped he could get his story right. “No. What did?”
“There was a scuffle and as your soap box went into the crowd, they parted and he fell backwards, hit his head on a stone bollard and died instantly. According to witnesses standing close by, they had tried to stop him before he fell, but it all happened too quickly for anyone to grab him.”
With an unerring instinct for self-preservtion, Jack Jr. said nothing.
Chris looked closely at him, but his expression was bland. “It seems there had been a fault on the steering,” she continued, “so you couldn’t have done anything to stop it.” And may God forgive you, Inspector Cowgill, she added to herself.
Jack Sr. appeared at the door, and young Jack went towards him. “Hi, Dad,” he said.
“Seems they’re letting us out tomorrow,” his father said. “We can go home together.”
COWGILL WATCHED THE SHOPPERS FROM HIS OFFICE WINDOW, turning over in his mind the last few days’ events. He had been assured by Chris that she had used his exact words when visiting Jack Jr. in hospital, but he had not heard from Lois.
Now Chris stood behind him, wondering whether to break the silence or to wait until he spoke. She was beginning to sense when she should keep quiet and when to offer suggestions. But she was taken by surprise by what happened next. He suddenly turned from the window and shot across the room, flung open the door and disappeared down the corridor. She heard his footsteps clattering down the stone steps and prayed that he would not slip. After all, he was getting on.
By the time he reached the ground floor, he was gasping for breath. All eyes followed him in astonishment as he sped across the reception area and vanished through the heavy double doors of the police station.
Lois and Jamie were just turning into the lane that led to the car park, when they both heard a shout. “Lois! Wait!”
Now all eyes were on the man who pushed his way through the crowds. “Police!” he was saying. “Make way for police!”
Lois and Jamie stopped and turned around. “What the hell?” Jamie said. “Doesn’t look like a policeman to me.”
“Oh, yes,” Lois said, “he’s a policeman all right. Here take the car key and wait for me. Shan’t be long.”
She stood waiting until Cowgill caught up with her, and then took his arm. “You really shouldn’t run,” she said, “not at your age. Here, let’s go and sit down on the bench over there.”
The wooden seat had been placed in a small paved garden in memory of a former mayor of the town, and was a haven of peace just off the busy market square. Cowgill sat down, insisting that he was fit as a fiddle, and age had nothing to do with it. Lois sat close to him and put her hand on his arm.
“What’s the latest on the Hicksons?” she said.
He had got his breath back, and turned to look at her. “They’ll be all right,” he said. “The father still has some questions to answer, but it will be sorted out without too much damage to the family. As for young Hickson, I am not at all sure about him, Lois. You can twist me round your little finger, unfortunately, and I instructed Chris how to talk to him, how to tell him what happened to Ross without mentioning that there will have to be further enquiries. It may well be that I have perverted the course of justice for you, young lady, but we shall see. The boy is young, and has had a rough deal so far. If those idiot parents of his keep an eagle eye on him, he may decide on the right course. Anyway, time will tell.”
Lois was quiet for a moment, then she leaned towards him and gave him a lightning kiss on the cheek. “Thanks,” she said. Then she stood up. “Happy ending, then?” she said, smiling at him.
“Maybe,” said Cowgill, rising to his feet and towering over her in policeman mode. He returned her smile and said, “But there was one other thing.”
“My car license has expired? Caught speeding through Farnden?”
He shook his head. “No, nothing like that. I ran after you because I am so excited about Josie and Matthew! You know what it means, Lois!”
“Um, yes. They are engaged, and will be getting married?”
,” he said with emphasis, “it means we shall be related!”