‘DS Jones, Causton CID,’ Ben said, flashing his warrant card to the competent-looking receptionist. The nameplate on her desk read Mrs Patrick. ’I need to speak with Mrs Barnaby, please.’
‘One moment.’ Mrs Patrick tapped at her keyboard and shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, she’s in a meeting just now, and she has another scheduled for immediately after it. Can I take a message—'
Ben cut her off. ‘I’m afraid it’s urgent, Mrs Patrick, and it can’t wait. Do you mind if I—' He indicated the door with Sarah’s name and qualifications blazoned on it, already halfway towards it before Mrs Patrick (who was only doing her job, he reminded himself, only doing her job, just like I’m doing mine, just like John) could protest.
Sarah glanced up from the piles of papers spread across the table, glasses slipping down her nose so that she looked at Ben over the top of them. Two other people also glanced up at him, glared; one of them had been in mid-sentence as Ben entered, and she snapped her mouth shut in a thin line of annoyance. But Sarah was already on her feet.
‘John?’ she asked, already knowing the answer.
Ben nodded: willing himself to hold it together for a few moments longer. ‘He’s in Causton General.’
Sarah swallowed. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, turning to her colleagues, ‘but we’ll need to reconvene at another time. Emily will arrange it. Please excuse me.’
In the car, she asked, ‘What happened?’
‘He’ll be all right,’ Ben said, willing the words to feel as true as they (actually? probably?) were. ‘He’ll be all right, Sarah. But we were closing in on our suspect in the Badger’s Drift case, and the bloody, bloody young fool took a shot at us with a rifle.’
His voice cracked and he took a moment to clear his throat, clear his thoughts, clear away the memory of John collapsing with a cry of pain, blood blooming red across his shirt.
‘Where was John hit?’ Sarah asked with the steady calmness she always displayed in a crisis, and Ben took a hand from the wheel, briefly, gratefully, to squeeze hers where they lay clasped in her lap: tight.
‘Shoulder,’ Ben said, ‘right through—thank God, it missed anything vital, so he’ll be all right—' (yes he would, he’d be all right, he would) ‘but he lost a lot—a lot of blood.’
‘Okay.’ Sarah unclasped her hands, laid them each flat against the jewelled print of her dress. ‘Okay.’
At the hospital—white, green, brightly lit, quietly humming—there were pink carnations on the desk and a nurse behind them. In her scrubs the nurse was white and green, like the hospital, and her face was pink, like the carnations. Ben noted to himself that he was probably in shock; filed the thought for future reference.
‘We’re here to see John Barnaby,’ Sarah said. ‘I’m his wife, and this is DS Ben Jones.’
The nurse checked a clipboard. ‘Oh yes, Mr Barnaby’s in room nine. He’s out of surgery, but he might not be awake quite yet. You go on in, Mrs Barnaby, but I’m afraid Mr, er, Jones will need to wait out here. Family only.’
‘Ben is family,’ Sarah said, in a voice that brooked no argument, and it turned Ben’s heart over and inside out in a way that nothing else so far had done in the quiet, complicated love between the three of them. ‘He’ll be coming in with me.’
In room nine John lay in the bed with his eyes closed, face washed of colour. Sarah drew a deep breath, drew up a chair, sat down and wrapped his hand in hers. Ben lowered himself into another chair against the wall. He was starting to shake.
A nurse came in, and checked John’s vitals, said, ‘He’s doing just fine,’ and left. A tea lady popped her head in, eyed Ben critically, and brought him and Sarah each a cup of tea. Sweet and milky. ‘There you are, ducks,’ she said comfortably, ‘that’ll do you good, now.’ It did. Ben felt himself slowly stop trembling, and moved his chair closer to the bed. Sarah laid her head on his shoulder, and he reached up to stroke her hair.
John blinked, at last, opened his eyes, and gave a deep groaning sigh. ‘Hello, you,’ he mumbled to Sarah. ‘And you,’ he added to Ben. ‘You’re all right then.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Ben answered, automatically professional, but the smile that cracked his face was full of warmth. ‘It’s good to see you awake.’
‘It’s not good to be awake,’ John complained with a grimace. ‘My shoulder hurts. A lot.’
‘That would be because you got shot, sir.’
‘What nonsense.’ John scowled. ‘Me, get shot? Definitely not. Couldn’t possibly happen.’
‘Oh, well then.’ Ben did his best to look serious but all he wanted to do was laugh with gladness, because John was all right, he was all right. ‘Better be done with this mass hallucination and get ourselves home, I suppose.’
’Quite right too.’
‘Darling, I know you know how much I hate the finance committee,’ Sarah said, a wobbly chuckle in her voice and her eyes full of tears, ‘but you didn’t have to go to such lengths to get me out of it.’
John drifted back to sleep with a smile on his still-pale face. Ben’s eyes stung; he brushed strands of hair from Sarah’s face as she rested her head against him again, brushed a tear from her cheek, then another. ‘He’ll be all right, love,’ he whispered.
‘I know.’ Sarah sniffed, dabbed her eyes with a tissue. ‘I know. It’s just—‘
‘Yeah,’ Ben said. ‘I know.’