The young woman gained consciousness only once. But it was enough.
A light from the street filtered in through a gap in the curtains and she could just make out a small dark figure in the corner of the room. Her child. The figure was frighteningly still but she could hear the painful rasping sound of breathing and she knew her daughter was alive.
Reaching out, she felt in the dark for the phone by the side of the bed. She found it and knocked the receiver off, but a sharp pain shot through her chest. She dropped her arm down heavily over the edge of the bed and the blood ran fast and hot onto the white cotton sheets. She closed her eyes and the blackness rose up again to meet her. She called out; one word. Help.
As the desk clerk finished his shift for the night, he passed the hotel switchboard on his way to collect his coat and saw a light flashing for the phone in a room on the third floor. He picked up the headphones and pressed the switch down.
“Hello, reception desk. How may I …” he broke off. There was the sound of breathing then a faint cry then silence. Without thinking twice, he dialled 999 and asked for the ambulance.
“Emergency just arriving!”
Dr Anthony Moore slopped his plastic coffee cup down onto the table in the staff quarters and stood up. He stretched, it had been a long night already, and then he hurried out into A&E. The ambulance had already arrived and the paramedics were lifting the trolley out of the back of the van, its blue light still flashing, lighting the scene every few seconds with its deathly glare.
“OK, steady now.” Anthony leant over the stretcher and glanced quickly down at the small child. Her face was bruised and bloody.
“We found her collapsed. She’s very short of breath, semi-conscious; there’ a rapid pulse, tachycardia, several bad lacerations on the neck and shoulders.”
“Right. Let’s sit her up.”
Swiftly the nurse moved the stretcher into an upright position. He leant forward again and rapidly adjusted the oxygen mask. The child was struggling for breath.
“Get her down to x-ray right away.”
One of the paramedics took the trolley and began at speed down the corridor.
“Where did you find her?” Anthony spoke quickly as he hurried alongside.
“Knightsbridge, the Hyde Park Hotel. Her mother was dead when we arrived. Looks like they’ve both been beaten to a pulp. The police are there now.”
“OK, thanks.” Anthony turned towards the ward and within minutes he was gone.
In x-ray the nurse held the child forward as the plate was sipped behind her back. Her breathing was laboured.
“Good girl. That’s right, breath in. Come on, hold your breath. Good girl.” The child was drifting in and out of consciousness. The nurse looked up as Anthony hurried in. “She’s worsening; pulse is very irregular.”
Anthony bent forward to the child and spoke softly to her. “Come on sweetheart, only a few more minutes. Hold on in there till we know what’s wrong.” He touched her hair, all matted with dried blood. The x-rays were finished and he stood.
“OK, let’s get her back to A&E.”
“She’s got pneumothorax. It’s the right side of the lung that’s collapsed.” Anthony stepped back from the screen. “Jesus!” He crossed to the bed. “She’s cyanosed! When did this happen?” He picked up the tiny hand and looked at her fingertips. They were blue. “Increase the oxygen. I’m going to do a chest drain.” He prepared the local anaesthetic and, lifting the child’s jumper, immediately injected it into the chest wall. “Come on, come on…” The child was losing all consciousness. “Don’t give up on us now…” He inserted the tube into her chest.
“Can we attach this please?”
The nurse was ready and had the drain by his side in seconds. He slipped the bottle over the end of the tube. “Cone on sweetheart, only a few more seconds…” The child had no strength left to struggle for breath; her lips were bright blue. Anthony held her forward and felt the frenzied rate of her pulse. “Come on… please… come on…”
“It’s draining!” The nurse moved forward to the bottle. Anthony touched the girl’s cheek. “Good girl! That’s more like it. Good girl…”
“Pulse rate is regulating.” The nurse held the child’s wrists. “Respiration rate is down…” She looked up. “Blood pressure is climbing.”
“OK.” Anthony saw the child’s eyes flutter open as she regained consciousness. “Good girl. That’s better, isn’t it?” He looked down at her face and noticed that her eyes were a bright, intense green.
“She seems to be steady now Dr Moore.”
“Good.” He laid her gently back against the pillows. “Let’s get her undressed and into a gown. I’d like to stitch those wounds now. He pulled back the curtains around the bed and walked across to the sink to wash his hands. As he looked down at them under the warm running water he suddenly realised just how close they had come to losing her and that for the first time in years he was shaking.
Two days later, Anthony stopped off at Phipps ward on his way through to A&E. It was late afternoon and he was about to start the late shift, but he wanted to check on the little girl. He walked to the end of the ward and sat down beside her bed. Smiling at her, he started to talk quietly, keeping his tone calm and reassuring. He watched her face, white and pinched, still badly discoloured from the bruising, and saw that she stared straight ahead as if he wasn’t even there, her wide green eyes cold and blank.
Anthony stopped speaking but continued to sit. He didn’t want to leave her. For the past two days he had spent half an hour either side of his shift sitting beside her, talking and reading, trying to find some way to communicate with her. She was, as far as he could tell from the staff and the police, completely alone. She was now in the hands of social services and that made him sad.
Glancing down at his watch he realised that he was late and stood up to leave.
“I’ll come and see you tomorrow,” he said, but the little girl continued to ignore him. “And I’ll finish the story we started yesterday.” He watched her for a moment. “You know, the one about Christopher Robin?” Suddenly she turned her head towards him. “Good! You remember it.” But he saw she wasn’t looking at him. He heard a child’s cough and looked round.
“Ah.” He stood face to face with the hostile glare of a seven year old by. “Well, I’ll be off then,” he said.
Smiling unsuccessfully at the boy, he walked silently past him and made his way up the ward. So, not completely alone, he thought and he felt better.
The following morning, despite his fatigue, Anthony made his way back over to Phipps ward again. He had just finished a gruelling sixteen hour shift but he’d heard that the police were interviewing the little girl and he wanted to be there. They were in the staff sister’s room as he arrived.
He walked into the small office.
“Dr Moore, this is Detective Sergeant Brindly and PC Merron. They’ve been interviewing the little girl in bed five.”
Anthony shook hands with both of them. “Dr Moore was on duty when she was brought in,” the nurse said. “He’s been keeping an eye on her, so to speak.”
“How did the interview go?” Anthony asked. “Have you any idea who she is?”
“None I’m afraid. We’ve very little to go on to be honest and the interview went as well as we could have expected. She’s very withdrawn and reluctant to say anything. Plus she’s young. How old do you think she is?”
“Five or six I’d say, but we don’t have any records, so it’s only a guess. So they found nothing in the hotel?”
“No, false names on the register, untraceable persons and no-one saw anything.” He shook his head. “It’s got a nasty feel to it this one, some sort of gang crime I’d take a guess.”
“Is there any sign of the father?”
Again the policeman shook his head. “Done a bunk I’d say. Probably run for his life.” He sighed. “We do have a name though; found it engraved on a gold locket at the crime scene. Hers, we think, ripped off. Elleanor it was, but no surname.”
“What happens now?” Anthony asked. He knew the answer and he didn’t want to hear it.
“Social services will take her into care. No other option. Of course she’s young so there might be a chance of foster care or adoption, but when or where, well, that’s anybody’s guess.”
Anthony rubbed his hands wearily over his face. He’d seen his fair share of difficult cases in the past few years since he’d qualified, this was Southwark after all, but they never failed to distress him. There was something about kids; they were so helpless, innocent victims of whatever their parents decided to shunt onto them.
“I think I’ll pop down and see her sister, if that’s ok? Poor little thing.” He nodded at the police and left the office, making his way down towards the ward. Standing just outside the ward, he looked along the row of four beds. A young nurse came up and stood by his side.
“Who’s that annoying little runt jumping up and down on bed five?” he asked.
“Oh God! That’s Ryan Lee, tonsillectomy. He’s a rough one; from one of the kids’ homes.” She began moving off down the ward. “Ryan! Stop that now please!”
Anthony watched the boy for a few moments. He stopped what he was doing but it was obvious that it was not for long. The nurse glanced back at Anthony and pulled a face. As she headed back towards him the boy started jumping again.
“Jesus, there’s no telling that one,” she said. “Ryan! Stop NOW!” He stopped and she went on her way.
Anthony wandered down to bed five and smiled at the little girl.
“So Elleanor,” he said, “How are you feeling today?” He turned round suddenly to a small, sharp voice behind him.
“She’s all right but she don’t like them p’lice much!”
Anthony looked at the boy who had just perched territorially on the end of the bed. A pair of keen, defensive eyes stared up at him defiantly.
“An ‘er name’s Elle,” the boys said, challenging Anthony to say otherwise with his hostile glare.
“Ah, I see.” Anthony noticed that the little girl looked up at him this time and met his eye. She had lost her wariness. He addressed his next comment directly to the boy. “Did she want to say anything to the police?”
Ryan shook his head. “Nah, she don’t remember nofink. I already asked ‘er.” He glanced across at Elle and smiled reassuringly. It was a private communication between them and Anthony suddenly realised their bond. He was out of place, no longer needed.
“Well,” he said, “I’d better get off home. I’ve been up all night.” He was pleased; relieved that she now had an ally.
“Don’t yer get no sleep?”
“Not much.” Anthony smiled and Ryan smiled back. Tough with a few soft edges, he thought; the right sort of ally. “Perhaps I can pop down to see you both tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” The two exchanged glances and then Ryan stood up as if to see the doctor off.
Anthony turned and walked away, his hand held up in a half wave.
“You’re all right you are,” Ryan called behind him.
Anthony turned and smiled. “Thanks,” he said and he was touched.
On the steps of a gloomy church in Marylebone a tall figure stood in the dark shadow of the columns as the evening drew in; his face hidden, waiting for someone. As the clock chimed five, a man hurried up the steps and into the church, his footsteps echoing on the marble floor, breaking the hushed silence. He sat down near the back and pulled his coat around him. The night was bitterly cold.
A few minutes later he was joined by the tall figure and they shook hands. Daniel Rosenberg looked closely at his friend. The dim light only partially hid the shadows of pain and sadness and his tall frame was bent, almost crumpled in grief. Rosenberg sighed heavily, wishing himself a life time away from this moment. He had talked through the night with his wife Ruth and she had convinced him it was the only thing to do, for his safety and for his friend’s. These were dangerous times, everyone wanting to carve up the city and take a patch for themselves.
The two men sat quiet for a moment.
“Did you find anything out Dan?”
Rosenberg sensed an edge of desperation in his friend’s voice. It made his task all the harder.
“Yes I did and its bad Nick. I’m sorry.” He took a breath, “The little one didn’t survive. There’s nothing left for you here now. It’s finished. She died on the way to the hospital; there was nothing they could do.” Rosenberg closed his eyes and heard his friend fight hard to control himself.
“But how did they find them Dan?” The voice was just a whisper. “I was so careful, I just don’t understand it. Oh God…” There was a pause and then he said; “All I wanted was out and he had to…” Nick’s voice broke. He was silent for some time and finally he said; “He won’t get away with it Danny. I’ll make him pay.”
Rosenberg turned and hissed into the darkness. “Leave it Nick! For God’s sake leave it now! Enough is enough! You can’t fight someone like that. Cabaj is too strong.” He put his hand on his friend’s arm. “Leave London! Go! Get out of here and don’t come back. Trust me Nick – this is over.”
Rosenberg stopped and took a breath. More quietly this time he said; “Katie would never have wanted you to waste your life Nick.”
The mention of his wife’s name was like a slap in the face for Nick. Abruptly he stood. He stared straight ahead of him and his voice was calm. “Yeah, you’re right Danny, I should leave. But I won’t forget it. He murdered my wife and my child and I won’t ever forget that.” Nick held out his hand. “Thanks for the advice Danny. “ They shook and he turned and walked away.
Rosenberg sat still and listened to the hollow footsteps on the stone, the creak and bang of the door and then to the murmuring silence of the church. He stood and walked down to the altar. He looked up at the crucifix and the suffering Christ and shook his head.
“Keep them both safe,” he said aloud. “Bring them back together again one day.” He shook his head again, at himself. Him, praying in a Christian church; whatever would Ruth say? He shrugged and turned and then he glanced back.
“So, who cares?” he asked God in the empty space. “You listen everywhere. It makes no difference to you.”