‘I’ve already told you, I don’t know.’
‘You knew he cut off his Levo; you said so. You must know something.’
‘You knew also, and I never asked you about that. But as far as what happened to him afterwards, I looked at the time: that information wasn’t on our system.’ She sighs. ‘Look, I’ll prove it, all right?’
She opens her computer. ‘Come round, and you shall see with your own eyes. Surname Nix, did you say?’
I nod. She taps ‘Ben Nix’ into the search box.
‘Perhaps he was a Benjamin.’ She tries that: nil return.
‘I don’t understand.’ She frowns, then her face clears. ‘He will be in your notes. Yes. I cross-referenced him under your friends and family listings.’ She switches screens. ‘Yes, here is his number.’ She taps at the screen again.
Her face flickers between anger and something else. She closes the computer.
‘What is it?’ I ask.
She sits back, takes her glasses off, rubs her eyes. She looks different without them – they are harsh, heavy black frames. Her eyes without the lens magnification look tired, more human. She puts them back on.
‘He must have been deleted.’
‘What does that mean? Is he…’
‘Is he dead? I don’t know. Merely dying isn’t enough to delete you from these records, Kyla. Even I haven’t got clearance to delete a record from the system. No one at the hospital can, not even the Board. I can create new patient files, update them, edit them, but not delete them. It is against every rule. Yet it is like he never existed.’
‘Who could do that?’
‘Nameless faces, with…’ She stops. ‘Are you the cat, am I the mouse? Enough of your questions. You can see I have answered you, as much as I can, and told you things I should not. It is your turn. Tell me: have you had any more memories come back?’ She leans forward, face still carefully detached, but behind it is eagerness, curiosity.
There is part of me that longs to tell her everything. She could see what has happened to me, explain it. But danger. No one can know. I’m on the Lorder radar: who knows if they listen?
And my eyes are looking, searching about the room. There could be listening devices in here, hidden anywhere.
‘What is it?’
‘Not here. I can’t talk about it here. I don’t feel safe.’
‘I can assure you, this room is not monitored. It would be a complete breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.’
‘Is that a bigger rule to break than deleting a patient record?’
She half opens her mouth, closes it again. Thinks a moment.
She writes on a slip of paper, then hands it across: meet me 9 am on Tuesday it says. A bridleway near my school is marked on a rough map sketched underneath.
With so many reasons to say no I clutch the paper in my hand. Nod.
‘Can you ride?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I say, the word out before I even know if it is true. And it is. There is a flash of memory, horses running across a field. Jumping a low fence: like flying!
‘What is it, Kyla?’
‘I remember,’ I whisper. ‘A horse. Black and white. We could fly!’
And her eyes hunger to know, to know everything. To see what went wrong inside my head.
But if her curiosity is satisfied, what then?
Once home from the hospital I stare at Nico’s envelope in my room, willing it to reveal its secrets.
I could open it; see what is inside. I shove it in my pocket and head downstairs.
‘I’m going to Cam’s,’ I announce, put shoes on, and open the door.
I step out, pause, and stick my head back in. ‘Mum?’ I call.
‘What?’ She comes into the hall.
‘This was stuck in the door. It’s got your name on it.’ I hold out Nico’s envelope, not hidden where Mum could find it alone as instructed. But I have to know. What is in it, what is her reaction?
She frowns, takes it. Tears it open and pulls out a sheet of paper. Scans it and her eyes widen. A sharp intake of breath.
‘What is it?’
‘Nothing important,’ she lies, and shoves it in her pocket.
I stare back at her, disbelieving, and for a second her eyes relent, there is indecision there. She is on the verge of telling me something, whether the truth or some other story. There are so many secrets between us. Will she open up? If she does, will I?
We both jump.
Mum opens the door. ‘Cam, hi. Come in.’
He steps in, looks between us as if he senses something is up.
‘Great minds think alike,’ I say. ‘I was just about to come over to see if you want to go for a walk?’
‘Sure,’ Cam says. ‘But first I’ve got a question. What should I wear to this thing on AMD?’ Mum and I both look at him, surprised, and he looks between us. ‘Uh-oh, he didn’t tell you, did he?’
‘Who? Tell us what?’ I ask.
‘Your dad. He asked if I want to come along to this ceremony thing with you, so I can take you home before the dinner.’
My eyes widen with alarm; I fight not to show it. No, Cam! Don’t be there. Who knows what will happen?
‘But if you don’t want me to come…’
Mum jumps in. ‘No, of course we do, Cam. That’s a good idea! Just didn’t know, that’s all. Suit and tie needed, I’m afraid.’
And I make the right sort of sounds, and try to make it convincing. While thinking what can I say to make him not come, once we’re alone.
‘Time we head out for a walk,’ I say. ‘Before it gets dark.’
‘Cam, a question before you go,’ Mum says. ‘Have you seen anybody out front of our house today?’
His eyes flick to me, back to her. ‘Don’t think so. Just Kyla coming out then going back in a moment ago. Why?’
‘No reason. Go on, you two.’
We walk up the footpath above the village. I look at Cam sideways. ‘You don’t want to come to this stupid ceremony at Chequers.’
‘Sure I do! A chance to get all dressed up, and rub shoulders with the great and the good. What’s not to like?’
‘It’s going to be really boring.’
‘Probably!’ He grins, and winks. ‘But you’ll be there.’
‘Cut the lines, bonehead. It’ll be speeches, politicians. Lorders everywhere. If there was any way I could get out of it, I would.’
‘That is why I’m going. So I can whisk you away after. So no buts.’
We reach the top lookout, and with Cam there, demons are exorcised. He does a Tarzan impression swinging off the side of a tree, and I laugh, standing in late afternoon sunshine. The sun is low in the sky; soon it will be dark. I shiver.
‘Come on, we best start back,’ I say, and he follows as I head down the path.
‘So,’ he says. ‘Are you going to tell me what is going on with you? It’s obvious something is on your mind.’
‘Don’t take me for an idiot.’
‘I don’t,’ I say. Shrug, hesitate. ‘It’s just the usual.’
‘The usual and mysterious?’
He holds my hand on the way down. Says goodbye out front. Adds, in a low voice, that if I ever need a friend to talk to, he is there.
But I can’t put him in danger like that.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
* * *
Nico pulls up at the back of a pub. We get out of his car and he knocks on the back door; it opens. We walk through a kitchen, then connecting rooms. The building is old, very – thatched roof, uneven floors, strange nooks and crannies in higgledy rooms. There are faint voices, people, to the front of the building. A back room with a few mismatched tables and chairs is empty. There is another door at the back of it: Nico opens it to reveal a small storage room.
‘In you get,’ he says.
‘Thanks for letting me come.’
He smiles. ‘This is something you have set in motion. What happens in this meeting will affect you. I thought you should listen in. Now, in. Be quiet.’ He glances at his watch. ‘If things go to plan it won’t be long.’
He shuts the door; there is a grating in it I can just peer through. Perhaps ten minutes later the man who let us in the back door comes in, carrying a tray of tea things. Behind him is Mum.
She sits down across from Nico. Pale; hands fluttering until she knots them together. Her eyes look this way and that, even at the door where I’m hiding, and I involuntarily shrink back despite knowing she can’t see into this dark room.
‘Tea?’ Nico says.
‘Where is he?’ she says.
He pours cups of tea, puts one in front of her. Saying nothing and I can see her fighting to not ask again. Failing.
‘Where is my son?’ Ah…Robert. That is the carrot he used to get her here. ‘You said he’d be here!’ She starts to stand.
‘I said, come if want to see your son again. I didn’t say he would be here.’
She pauses, eyes guarded. She lowers herself back into her chair.
‘Well?’ she says.
‘We know where he is.’
‘I’ve been trying to find him for years.’
He raises an eyebrow. ‘We may have sources you cannot access.’
‘Who are you, exactly?’
‘I think you know.’
‘I guess, but I want to hear you say it.’
Nico’s lips quirk. He’s amused. He is playing with her, and some part of me wants to rip the door open, and yell at both of them to just say what they are thinking.
She does just that. ‘You killed my parents; you bombed my son’s bus.’
He shakes his head slightly. ‘I’m not old enough to have done the former, and that isn’t quite what happened to the latter.’
‘You know what happened to Robert.’ A statement, not a question.
‘I have sources, too.’
She sighs. ‘The official version of events is that he was killed in the bus bombing, but he was seen alive and well soon after. He must have been Slated.’
‘You do realise, that if you see him, he won’t even know who you are.’
She doesn’t answer; her shoulders are slumped. Of course she knows that.
‘Think about what has been done to you,’ Nico says. ‘What is done to countless mothers and fathers.’
‘To their children,’ she whispers.
‘You have a chance to do something about it.’
‘Your ways are not mine.’
He inclines his head. ‘I’m not suggesting they are. But there is something you can do. Help future parents and children not go through what you have gone through. Make no mistake, the Lorders are behind it all: if not for them we’d have no reason to be here.’
‘Armstrong Memorial Day. When you give your speech, at Chequers. It is televised live?’
‘Yes. It is every year. But—’
‘Tell the whole country about your son. Your Robert. Begin with the usual, the tragic loss of your parents. Then mention Robert was also killed by terrorist bombs – then tell the truth about what happened to him. That the Lorders break their own laws. If you take the secrecy away – if the people know what really goes on – they’ll stop it.’
She shakes her head. ‘It’ll never work. The Lorders will cut the transmission.’
‘I have sources. I can assure you, this broadcast is truly live. There is no delay. You’ll be able to get it out fast enough if you are clever how you say it.’