Part Five Chapter XV
In Church Row, Miles Mollison came tearing out of his house in bedroom slippers and sprinted down the steep sloping pavement to the Old Vicarage on the corner. He banged on the thick oak door with his left hand, while trying to dial his wife’s number with his right.
‘Yes?’ said Parminder, opening the door.
‘My dad,’ gasped Miles ‘… another heart attack … Mum’s called an ambulance … will you come? Please, will you come?’
Parminder made a swift move back into the house, mentally seizing her doctor’s bag, but checked.
‘I can’t. I’m suspended from work, Miles. I can’t.’
‘You’re joking … please … the ambulance won’t be here for – ‘
‘I can’t, Miles,’ she said.
He turned and ran away from her through the open gate. Ahead, he saw Samantha, walking up their garden path. He called to her, his voice breaking, and she turned in surprise. At first, she thought that his panic was on her account.
‘Dad … collapsed … there’s an ambulance coming … bloody Parminder Jawanda won’t come …’
‘My God,’ said Samantha. ‘Oh my God.’
They dashed to the car and drove up the road, Miles in his slippers, Samantha in the clogs that had blistered her feet.
‘Miles, listen, there’s a siren – it’s here already …’
But when they turned into Evertree Crescent, there was nothing there, and the siren was already gone.
On a lawn a mile away, Sukhvinder Jawanda was vomiting river water beneath a willow tree, while an old lady pressed blankets around her that were already as sodden as Sukhvinder’s clothes. A short distance away, the dog-walker who had dragged Sukhvinder from the river by her hair and her sweatshirt was bent over a small, limp body.
Sukhvinder had thought she felt Robbie struggling in her arms, but had that been the cruel tug of the river, trying to rip him from her? She was a strong swimmer, but the Orr had dragged her under, pulled her helplessly wherever it chose. She had been swept around the bend, and it had thrown her in towards land, and she had managed a scream, and seen the man with his dog, running towards her along the bank …
‘No good,’ said the man, who had worked on Robbie’s little body for twenty minutes. ‘He’s gone.’
Sukhvinder wailed, and slumped to the cold wet ground, shaking furiously as the sound of the siren reached them, too late.
Back in Evertree Crescent, the paramedics were having enormous difficulty getting Howard onto the stretcher; Miles and Samantha had to help.
‘We’ll follow in the car, you go with Dad,’ Miles shouted at Shirley, who seemed bewildered, and unwilling to get into the ambulance.
Maureen, who had just shown her last customer out of the Copper Kettle, stood on the doorstep, listening.
‘Lots of sirens,’ she said over her shoulder to an exhausted Andrew, who was mopping tables. ‘Something must have happened.’
And she took a deep breath, as though she hoped to taste the tang of disaster on the warm afternoon air.