The Good Samaritan

Page 22


I padded around the house for days, waiting patiently in case I was wrong and they reappeared from Dad’s bedroom. Sometimes I made the most of having the television to myself, and sat watching dramas and Children’s BBC. But it all came to an abrupt end when my English teacher appeared at the front door to ask why I’d been absent from school for the best part of a week.
Later, when the police cars and ambulances arrived, I was kept behind a closed living room door as a policewoman in uniform held my hand and told me everything would be all right. She was lying. She couldn’t have known that.
I glanced out of the window at the neighbours huddling together on their driveways, puzzled as to what terrible thing had happened in their street that required so many flashing blue lights. Some held each other tightly when black plastic bags containing my family were stretchered out.
‘That poor little lass!’ I heard one exclaim as I was led out, too. The only person not to feel sorry for me was me.
In the following weeks and months, people in authority kept asking me how I was feeling, if I understood what had happened, whether I wanted to talk about it or if I needed anything. I didn’t tell anyone about capturing my family’s last breaths because they wouldn’t understand, nor would they comprehend that thanks to my dad it would become my purpose to help and carry other lost souls inside me when and wherever I came across them.
Six years of foster homes then group homes – some good and some not so good – didn’t do any lasting damage to me in the end. Sylvia taught me how to hide in plain sight, and Olly showed me the value of finding an anchor that keeps you in place despite the storms engulfing you.
The sharpness of the wind around the hotel roof made my eyes water, but I was feeling empowered and leaned further over the railings, balancing on my tiptoes. It might only take a rogue gust to tip me over the edge. But fate hadn’t intervened and it wasn’t my time. I still had work to do. Steven needed me, as would others.
Early this evening he would call me for the last time and we’d run through my plan. There might not be anyone to hear me when I breathed my last, but I’d ensure there was somebody who cared enough to be there for his.
The interior of my Mini was almost silent but for the hum of the engine and the vehicles I passed. I maintained a speed a little below the legal limit of 30 mph so that a road camera wouldn’t catch me.
Occasionally the clipped accent voicing my satnav broke the quiet, but I was anxious that nothing else would remove me from the calm, collected headspace I needed to maintain on the approach to Steven’s house.
Before I left home, I’d texted the girls to tell them I was going to be at the office a little later than planned, but they must have run out of phone credit as I hadn’t heard back from them. I picked a coat to wear with deep pockets on the inside and outside. These I stuffed with gloves, a battery-operated torch, a packet of wet wipes and a steak knife, just to be on the safe side. And as each half-mile counted down to my arrival, my heart pounded faster and faster.
I’d called Steven’s recently purchased disposable phone from the office at six o’clock, as agreed, to get his address, and immediately I’d typed the postcode into an app that offered me an aerial view of the road and another taken from street level. It was as he described. Then I’d visited a property website to view photos posted online the last time the house was up for sale. It was a potentially attractive cottage but quite shabby. However, Steven had warned me that since purchasing it, his worsening depression meant his interest in keeping it maintained had waned. I looked at the floor plan and his bedroom was where he’d told me.
I’d spent the week preparing myself for the moment I was to come face to face with him for the first and last time. It would be nerve-wracking and thrilling to watch as he slipped a rope around his neck using the method I’d suggested, then stepped off the chair and let gravity and nature take its course. His death would be better than anything I had ever imagined I’d get out of joining End of the Line.
I’d prepared myself for what to expect during and after Steven’s death by surfing Internet images of the lifeless, contorted bodies of people who’d chosen the same route. Each one differed from the next. I looked closely at grooves made by ligatures around throats; bloody, crimson-frothed nostrils and mouths; elongated necks; prominent eyes with dilated pupils; swollen tongues and clenched hands. I watched videos that foreign terrorists had uploaded of public hangings, slow suffocations and strangulations. But no pictures, footage or descriptive text could prepare me for the final expression on Steven’s face. And, of course, his last breath.
It felt like an age, but I’d only been behind the wheel for twenty minutes when I arrived on the outskirts of a village. HARPOLE – PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY, a sign read. I followed the satnav’s directions along the high street and towards clumps of cottages set back from the road.
‘You have reached your destination,’ the satnav voice said, so I pulled over, turned off the engine and remained for a moment, staring at house number 11 just a little further ahead and to the right of me. My fingers involuntarily wrapped around the arc of the steering wheel to prevent me from sinking so deeply into my seat that I could never climb out.
I looked closely at Steven’s house. Some of the slate roof tiles were askew or needed replacing and the white paint on the window frames was flaking. The garden was overgrown and a wooden gate had fallen from its hinges and was propped up against an unkempt hedge. A porch on the right-hand side had a pitched roof and a front door you couldn’t see from the road.
I glanced at my watch: it was 7.50 p.m. and I was due inside in ten minutes. Now that I was here and the place was in view, my fear rose, causing my legs to tremble like they were trying to keep up with the ever-increasing beat of my heart. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep them still. Dusk was enveloping the village and it gave my mission a more sinister feel.
‘Calm yourself, Laura,’ I spoke out loud. ‘Remain in control and think of your anchor.’
But not even Henry could help me now.
I remained where I was for the time being until I was sure I hadn’t been seen. I wasn’t naive to the risks of what I was doing. A tiny, rational portion of my brain held on to my initial suspicions about Steven’s motives in having me there. And that part urged me to sit outside his house a little bit longer to confirm this wasn’t some kind of sick joke. If it was, Steven’s storytelling put mine to shame.
I craved a cigarette and began to nibble the skin around my fingernails as I questioned what I was doing there. Nobody was twisting my arm to go inside; if I just turned over the ignition and drove away, I’d be safe at home within minutes. That’s what a sensible, cautious person would do. That’s what Mary would have done. But she was weak, and I was not like her and would never be. And the lure of what was going to happen under that roof was all too powerful for me to ignore. I had to go inside.
I slipped on my brown leather gloves so as not to leave fingerprints on anything I touched, and walked cautiously up a gravel path, passing windows with drawn curtains. I looked up at the only illuminated window, on the first floor, where Steven had said he’d be waiting.
The door was ajar and I pushed it open, then took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. I fished out my torch and directed the beam towards various closed doors. The only pieces of furniture in the porch and hallway were a small table with some dried flowers in a vase and a wooden chair. Propping the front door open with the chair, in case I needed to beat a hasty retreat, I slid my hand into my pocket and gripped the handle of the knife.