Page 51 of The Secret Father

‘Why, what’s wrong, dear?’ Beth watched in amazement as her daughter wrestled with the paper, trying to turn the crumpled leaves to the appropriate page.

‘Never mind about that! What does it say? Who won’t live?’ She was almost sobbing with frustration as she tried to find the front page.

‘Don’t use that tone with your mother.’ A glance from his wife stilled Charlie Lacey’s objections.

‘Sam Rourke’s son has been in a terrible car crash.’

The paper fell from Lindy’s nerveless grasp. ‘Sam’s not dying?’ she said in an empty voice. ‘He’s not dead?’ she repeated carefully. She gave a sudden dry sob and pressed her fist against her lips.

‘No, dear, it’s his son who’s critical. Mr Rourke has rushed to his side, apparently, though why that should surprise anyone I don’t know. It’s what parents do,’ she added with a gentle smile.

‘I must get dressed,’ Lindy said, glancing down at her towelling robe with an abstracted expression. ‘What time is it?’

‘What are you doing?’ Charlie asked before his daughter swept from the room.

‘Why, going to Sam, of course,’ she replied, as though the answer were obvious.

‘I think life might have been easier if we’d had sons,’ her father observed as she slammed the door behind her. ‘I feel very old,’ he complained to his wife.

‘Dr Lacey?’

Hand outstretched, she went forward. Bless Adam, she thought; he’s come up trumps again.

‘Fred Bohman.’ Her hand was pumped enthusiastically. Dr Bohman was a large man, with a girth that she couldn’t have spanned with both arms. ‘This is kinda unorthodox,’ he went on, looking her up and down. ‘You are a doctor?’

‘Cross my heart,’ she assured him solemnly. She still couldn’t believe she’d got here so quickly. It was mostly thanks to Adam. When she’d rung him to say she wouldn’t be coming into work, he’d somehow wangled her intentions out of her. He hadn’t tried to dissuade her or even complained at being let down. Instead, he’d rung back half an hour later, having got her a cancellation place on the next flight to New York. She’d had to arrange the internal flight connection herself.

‘You do realise how tight the security is going to be in the hospital?’ Fred Bohman asked.

She hadn’t, until Adam had pointed it out. When he’d casually mentioned he knew a medical administrator at the hospital Sam’s son had been transferred to, she hadn’t been able to believe her luck.

‘I can get you in, Dr Lacey,’ Fred Bohman told her as he led the way across the car park. ‘But after that you’re on your own.’

She nodded. Adam had said as much. ‘What’ll you do if he has you thrown out on your ear, Lindy?’ he’d asked.

‘I don’t know.’

Adam hadn’t appeared to find anything to criticise in this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants policy, or, if he had, he’d kept quiet about it.

There was an obvious media presence on the steps in front of the building, but once inside the building the security measures were less noticeable. Nobody stopped her as she walked beside the authoritative bulk of Fred Bohman.

‘You’d be amazed how many crazy people will do almost anything to see Sam Rourke,’ Fred observed, with a shake of his head. ‘The guy’s sitting at a deathbed and someone actually asked him for an autograph. And a reporter who got in nearly left through the window.’

Lindy saw the sign for ITU and her palpitations got worse. She swallowed convulsively, but there was nothing to lubricate her throat and her mouth was bone-dry.

‘ITU’s straight ahead.’

‘Thanks; I’m very grateful.’

‘Give my best to Adam. The family will be in the relatives’ lounge, or with the boy.’

What the hell are you doing, Lindy? she asked herself as she walked forward. She pulled out the stethoscope she’d shoved into her pocket and looped it around her neck to add a little authenticity. They can’t really arrest me for impersonating a doctor when I am one—can they? she thought. The window-dressing might distract attention from the sign she felt sure was plastered across her forehead, saying ‘INTRUDER’.

The door was ajar and with a nudge of her hip it swung inwards. What am I going to say? What am I going to do? she wondered. In the grip of a gut instinct that was stronger than anything she’d ever encountered in her life, Lindy hadn’t permitted herself to think beyond this point.

I’m probably the last person he wants to see, she thought as she stepped forward into the room. Deep-pile carpet and easy chairs set in informal groups around the room gave no indication of the tears that had been shed within these four walls. She’d had to break bad news to relatives often enough to know that there was no easy way to do it, no setting that made it easier.