The spinning was the worst. No—it was the hope. Hope I might survive, might crawl out of this when, really, I was underwater, hurt, wrapped in wet ice. My arms and legs shot into spasms, and then the water…
I tried to cough. More water sluiced into my mouth, my throat, my chest.
I tasted mud and copper.
My nose stung, as what little air inside me leaked out, the bubbles razor-sharp…
My feet hit the sludge at the bottom of the River Aire, and plumes of muck swirled. The current gripped again, and the spinning resumed. I tried to pivot, but swimming up, swimming down, it was all meaningless, even if I could have taken a breath.
Gulps of muddy water…
Fighting on was futile. Only pain lay ahead if I did.
So, to end it all as quickly as possible, I simply opened my mouth, breathed in hard, and—
—Martin Money opened his eyes to a bright light. Instead of filth, he tasted plastic. Plastic and disinfectant. He gagged on a pipe; thrashed at the object in lodged his throat. Gripped it. The extraction grated, each ridge bumping over his flesh, but it had to come out. As he pulled, his shoulders creaked, throbbing to a numb beat.
The tube came out fully. He vomited something clear and viscous onto the sheets covering his legs.
He couldn’t see them, and when he tried to move them, they didn’t work.
“No!” The word was agony.
It was white everywhere.
Okay, so he was in hospital. Don’t panic. Tight sheets; the beep-beep-beep of the monitor; wires suckered to his chest; a hiss-ffffffff from a machine, the one attached to the tube that had been inside his mouth.
His gut ached. Sitting up hurt. Moving his arms hurt. Turning his head… well, it hurt, okay?
But his legs. He still couldn’t move his legs.
And what about sight? He could see his legs now, at least the bulge under the sheets representing legs, but not much past there. Blurs of light flashed—left, then right. But little else. If he had neighbours he couldn’t see them, so this could have been a private room or the middle of ITU.
The water came straight back to him now. Drowning tends to stick in the mind. But after that?
That morning, he rushed out the door without breakfast, stopped by his wife who tried to push a bowl of porridge on him. A kiss, a nice kiss, and he told her not to worry, he’d grab something—probably. He found a cereal bar on his car seat, a Post-It note attached with a love-heart drawn in biro.
Ah, Julie. Nice one, honey.
Martin’s stomach had settled since the up-chuck, but now a hollow ache told him to fill it. He had never been a patient in hospital before, not even to extract his appendix or tonsils. On TV shows or films, the patient always wakes up and starts stabbing at some button next to their hand.
He could locate no such button.
Instead, he gripped the chords stuck to his chest, ready to dramatically yank them off. Stopped himself. Instead of yanking, since he had something of a hairy chest, he forced his heavy thumb and heavier finger to pinch the first sucker, and peeled it gently away. His elbow served as a counter-weight, making the effort akin to lifting barbells.
The machine blipped and squawked.
He peeled off the next one. Two more to go.
With the third, sweat prickled on his brow. His dropped his arm, leaving the fourth until he could get his breath. However, it seemed three was enough for the beep-beep-beep machine to trigger an alarm somewhere.
“Oh my God!”
The voice belonged to fuzzy, dark-skinned form in a blueish tunic. Thick-hipped, round, she entered through a door to his right.
A door! So it was a private room, not a ward.
Martin said, “Hey.” He tried to, anyway. It came out as one long croak.
“You’re awake!” she said, and ran away.
It was not the reaction he was hoping for.
It took them half an hour to find a doctor. To find his doctor. Vasilas. Martin didn’t catch his first name. Polish perhaps. Eastern Europe for sure. A definite accent, but his English was clear.
He asked, “Do you know your name?”
“Martin Money,” Martin said.
“What city do you live in?”
“Your profession?” Dr. Vasilas rolled his Rs, almost seductively.
“I’m a copper,” Martin said. “A police officer. Detective Inspector. I work out of Sheerton station.”
His throat grated every time he spoke, but the nurse who ran away had returned and fed him iced water and patted his head and told him what a good boy he was. Mostly. She was the ward sister. Emma Coombs. A big lady, with soft hands and a smile like sunrise. A light Jamaican lilt to the way she talked, more diluted with Yorkshire-ness than Dr. Vasilas.
The doctor asked, “Your mother’s maiden name?”
“Carter,” Martin said.
“Next of kin?”
“Julie Money. My wife.”
He checked a note on a clipboard that appeared from somewhere, and asked, “Who is the prime minister?”
Nurse Emma stroked Martin’s hair, tilted her head. “You’re doing so great.”
Dr. Vasilas said, “And the president of the United States?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever known the answer to that.” When Vasilas made a note, Martin said, “Look, what is this? I know you have to do these tests, but shouldn’t you be talking to me? How did I get here? What the hell happened to me?”
“Sir, I will tell you everything in good time, but for now—”
“NO, TELL ME NOW!”
Emma Coombs snatched her hand away and both of them backed right off. More than out of arm’s reach. Vasilas held the pen like a knife, his clipboard a shield.
Martin said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that.” He tried to chuck a laugh out. “I can’t reach you anyway, look at my legs.” He used his hands to lift one leg through the sheets and let it drop.
Both watched his hands return to his lap.
The door opened and a uniformed police officer entered at pace. “Everything okay?” He was young, fit-looking, taller than Martin.
“I think everything is fine,” Dr. Vasilas said. “You were very slow.”
“Want me to wait here?”
Vasilas shook his head and the young PC returned to the corridor, leaving the door open a crack.
Martin asked, “Why is he here?”
“Protection,” Vasilas said.
“Why do I need protection?” Martin looked at each in turn. “What happened to me?”
Vasilas sat next to Martin’s bed and lay the clipboard beside his useless legs. Nurse Emma sat the other side, this time not touching his hair or his hand.
“Look,” Martin said. “I’m fine. David Cameron is the PM, Nick Clegg his deputy, they formed a coalition government two years ago and straight away began jiggering around with police budgets and basically shafting everyone in the country. Bin Laden’s been killed, Prince William is married, the peasants rioted cos bankers are rich or whatever shitty excuse they used. I know all this. I just need to figure out why I can’t move my legs and why I’m in the hospital.”
“Sir,” the doctor said, “someone stabbed you just beneath your right kidney, close to the spine. The blade made a cut in the connective muscular tissue that runs down your back. It did not result in serious damage, but you will need to go through a period of physiotherapy.”
“And they dumped me in the water?”
“I heard from your colleagues that you fell in trying to escape. I cannot say if this is true.”
“Do they know who did it?”
“I believe they have a suspect in custody, or questioning someone, but then I do not have all the details. You were pulled out and you were resuscitated. But you lost a lot of time, a long time without oxygen to your brain. If you were to recover, I predicted some mild brain damage, perhaps serious.”
“But I don’t have brain damage, do I? I’m me. I know who the PM is, I know who I am…”
Vasilas’s deep breath made Martin pause. He’d attended enough interrogations to recognise a suspect about to crack, about to grass up his mate, about to confess.
Vasilas said, “There are some… inconsistencies with my notes.”
“Incon— what? What do you mean ‘inconsistencies’? I got them right, didn’t I? How long was I out for?”
“Only a few days, a week. But, sir—”
“What inconsistencies?” Martin was suddenly so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. “I need to sleep. Just tell me. Please.”
“Sir, your rank in the police. According to my notes—and I will check these—it is not detective inspector. It is detective sergeant.”
“No, I— I’m a DI. Detective Inspector Money.” Martin’s words slurred. Earlier, there’d been a needle embedded in his arm. He checked: still there, a wire snaking to a bag of clear liquid.
Emma Coombs held her thumb and forefinger around a square of plastic—some sort of flow control. With that head-tilt of hers, she said, “To calm you down.”
Martin flailed at the line. “I don’t wanna relax!” His fingers missed and he slumped sideways. Vasilas helped him up. Martin grabbed him by the neck. “Where’s my wife? Where’s Julie? I need to see her. She’ll tell you.”
The young buck of an officer stormed in, pulled Vasilas away and Martin’s arm dropped dead again. The buck PC was about to strafe Martin with pepper spray but Nurse Emma shouted, “NO!” and the kid paused long enough for her say, “He’s out of it. Don’t worry.”
Vasilas stood over Martin, rubbing his neck. Martin tried to say sorry, explain this wasn’t like him, that he was one of the most chilled-out funky cool guys anyone could hope to meet. In place of comforting words, though, he drooled onto his shoulder and eeked out a groan.
Vasilas said, “I’m sorry, Mr Money. But Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg are approaching an election now. Those events you mention, all of them, were three years ago. And your ex-wife is no longer listed as your next of kin.”
Martin woke up again. Hungry. And the thirst had returned with a vengeance. The lights were out, machines glowing quietly. His hands shook. He lifted one, but it was cuffed to the bed rail. This time someone had positioned a call button in his left hand, so he pressed it.
He wasn’t sure what to expect. An acknowledgment of some sort maybe. But if it rang at a nurses station up the corridor, why would it be acknowledged?
He tried to relax, but the doc said 2011 was three years ago. So that made it, what? 2014 now. Pretty much the future. He’d been here three years?
No. Dr. Vasilas said it was a matter of days.
Blurred Christmas lights.
Street slick with rain.
Pain in his back.
A scramble on all fours.
Must get away, must get away.
Water, rushing up.
Filth in his mouth, his lungs…
“Fuck,” he said.
“Happy new year to you, too.” A man’s voice. Somewhere in the room. “So, how you doing, Rosie-Boy?”
“Rosie-Boy? Who is that?”
A figure rose from Martin’s left side, where Nurse Emma had sat. An outline, a bald head silhouetted against the heart monitor, pointy ears and sloping shoulders. “Hey, you gave us quite a scare.”
“Who’s ‘us’? Who are you?”
The figure reached a long, thin arm to the wall and flicked on a side light. It flared in Martin’s face, and when he twisted his head away, the world blurred and something cut through his brain like cheese wire. His gut cramped, but he couldn’t double over, couldn’t press his hands into his soft belly. He wretched but nothing came.
The man said, “Easy, Rosie. Easy.”
Rosie. A new nickname. Ginger hair attracts nicknames like nothing else. Rusty, Red, now Rosie. A new one that cropped up in the period he’d forgotten. He would have to get rid of Rosie pronto.
Martin said, “Get the light off. Or move it, or something.”
“I heard your memory is a bit sketchy, Rosie.”
The man’s shadow fell over Martin, who clicked the call button. “Who are you? Where’s my guard?”
“PC Wadaya? He’s outside, of course. No need to keep me out. We’re friends.”
“Here.” The man slid in front of the light, but the brightness behind cast him completely as a silhouette. He held something out for Martin. “A little pick-me-up.” A thin object, the length of a finger.
“I can’t,” Martin said, and rattled the cuffs.
“Bastards. Treating their own like this, it’s fuckin’ criminal.”
The man held Martin’s left wrist just above the binding. Held it hard. Martin gasped. The man tapped the arm several times, gave a ‘hmm’, and nipped out the drip feed. Tied it up.
Martin said, “What are you doing?”
“I told you. Pick-me-up.”
As he shifted, Martin now saw the object as if illuminated in a spotlight: a syringe.
“Hey,” Martin said. “Are you a doctor?”
The man laughed. “You’re really playing this card, huh?” He rested a hand on Martin’s chest, leaned his face close and Martin still couldn’t see him clearly. From what he made out, the man had small eyes and a squashed nose, a crooked mouth surrounded by a thin line of hair.
Calmly, he said, “Look, Rosie, this is me. I’m not wired, and I’m pretty sure it would be against your human rights or some shit to bug a hospital room. It’s okay.”
He patted Martin’s shoulder and moved to insert the needle into the plastic valve already in his arm.
“Wait!” Martin thrashed his arm as best he could.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’ll help you.”
“What is it? You’re not a doctor.”
“No, Rosie, I’m not a doctor. I’m your friend.”
“If you’re my friend, tell me what’s in it.”
He sighed and lowered the syringe, stood back so Martin was again dazzled again by the light. “That feeling in your stomach, that ache? It’s withdrawal. Your body should’ve dealt with the worst of it while you were out, but this stuff gets inside you, in your head. You’re going cold turkey, and if you say the wrong thing while you’re having a fit… well, it’ll be bad for all of us.”
“All of who? Cold turkey? What are you talking about? What’s in that needle?”
“Your cocktail of choice, of course.” Now he held Martin’s arm firm, fingers like talons. “Just be a minute, then you’ll be ready to face the world.” He positioned the needle in the drip’s aperture. “Hold still…”
“No!” Martin yanked his arm away .
Martin threw the call button as hard as he could. It landed on the cabinet, its wire snared the glass next to the jug of iced water, and knocked it to the floor, shattering in a hail of noise and shards.
“Twat,” the man said.
He dropped the syringe into the gap between the mattress and side rail, and stood up straight. The door opened within five seconds. The main light came on and PC Wadaya entered alongside a suited gentleman who Martin recognised as Detective Chief Superintendent Daniel Black.
“Sir,” said the syringe man.
“Detective Constable Essex,” DCS Black said. “You know you’re not supposed to be here.”
“He’s my friend, sir.”
DC Essex looked at Martin as if for support. “Come on, Rosie. Tell him.”
It was all Martin could do from staring at the syringe, from drawing attention to it. He said, “I don’t remember you.”
“Well you need to fucking remember.”
Black said, “That’s enough.”
“You drove your wife away, Rosie. Your colleagues don’t trust you, and pretty much everyone you ever met now hates you. That Arab they got guarding you? Revelation time: he’s not there to keep the bad guys out. He’s there to keep you in.”
“Essex,” Black said. “Go. Now.”
The detective constable sighed hard through his nose, eyes wide. “I’m not just your friend, Rosie. I’m your only fucking friend. Here. Remember this.” He tossed a business card onto the bed. “When you’re ready to chat.”
With DCS Black eyeing him all the way, Detective Constable Essex departed. The large man dismissed constable Wadaya, and turned crisply. “So, Martin. You must have a lot of questions.”
“Memory,” DCS Black said, lowering himself into what was quickly becoming the dedicated visitor chair. “It’s a funny thing.”
Martin said, “Not so funny right now, sir.”
“No. Not funny at all. You know what today is?”
“That man wished me happy new year. So January.”
“Correct. January first, actually. You were pulled out of the River Aire on Christmas Eve. Nice symmetry, don’t you think?”
“It wasn’t my first thought, but I suppose it has a nice ring to it.”
Christmas Eve. Presents, shopping, mulled wine at the Christmas market.
Martin said, “The doctor told me there was a suspect?”
Black shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not. He was mistaken. We questioned a lot of people, but nothing came of it. No CCTV, not witnesses. It’s a bit of a dead end, I’m afraid.”
“Who pulled me out?”
“A woman walking her dog saw you washed up on a mud flat a mile from the bridge. Thought you were dead. Called three nines and waited. She isn’t a suspect.”
Martin’s stomach growled. It bubbled inside. “Sir, do you think someone could get me a bit to eat? A drink?”
Black rubbed his hand over his mouth and stroked it slowly to the end of his chin, the gesture a staple of his. He would be weighing up the choice of being strong and forthright, but ultimately heartless, with being looked upon like a waiter. He completed his mental risk assessment, called Wadaya in and gave him the order to send refreshments.
Martin took the opportunity to move the syringe out of sight, under his sheet. Not easy, still being cuffed, but even in that brief moment of pinching it between his fingers, he somehow knew that it contained a high-quality mixture of one part cocaine to three parts heroin, a mellow wave backed up by just enough kick to keep the brain working. The injection-point on his inside-thigh prickled in anticipation.
He could taste the drug in his veins.
“So,” DCS Black said. “DS Martin Money. This bit is tricky. But I think you’ll like it.”
“I’m not a DI anymore?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“An… investigation. It ended badly. For you. And DC Essex back there. I can go into it in full later, but for now, we have to look at options.”
“Options, yes.” He took a notebook from his jacket pocket and spent a couple of seconds adjusting the distance from his eyes. Wearing glasses was an admission to ageing. “With the injuries you sustained it is highly unlikely you will pass a police medical, and therefore you are eligible for a generous payout and full pension.”
The syringe rolled on the bed, stopped by Martin’s bare thigh.
“What do you think, DS Money?”
“Disability. It’s unlikely you’ll pass a—”
“Yes, sir, I heard all that. Don’t I have to go through some tests? The doctor mentioned physiotherapy.”
“Indeed, but if we get the paperwork signed off straight away, you don’t need to worry about fitness tests or police politics. You just concentrate on getting well, and maybe when you’re up to it we can organise a leaving do.”
A leaving do.
Martin said, “You’re forcing me out.”
“Not at all, Martin. Simply making the process as smooth as possible.”
“What if I wait until I’ve gone through the physio? Maybe I’ll want to return to work.”
He put his notes away and stood. Straightened his jacket. “Martin, if you fuck with me on this, I’ll make sure the PSD complete that investigation you scuppered.”
“PSD? Why are they investigating me?”
He pressed his fists into the mattress, supporting his bulk. “This is all a lot of fun, Martin. But it won’t stick. You got away with a slapped wrist last time, but now your choice is simple.” He shifted slightly and, under the sheet, the syringe rolled into the crevasse forming near his hand. “Either professional standards reopens every investigation they shelved—and I mean including the allegations by your missus, by DS Cartwright, the complaints from Tug Jones’s scroats, and even those irregularities with your timekeeping—or… and I want to make this offer very clearly. HR told me to step lightly but you don’t seem able to take the hint. Either PSD investigates the living crap out of you, or you accept the ridiculously over-generous disability payout, and fuck off.”
His reddening face eased as he stood back up to his full height.
Martin’s hand found the syringe and held it. “Sir, I—”
“No need for formalities, Martin. Think of it as a new start. Not many people get that. Be grateful. Just sign the paperwork when it arrives. There’s a good lad.”
Before Martin could say another word, the man who ran his station left. Martin was alone with nothing but a suffocating feeling of… he didn’t know what it was. Unfairness? Just him, the beeping machines, and a tiny plastic tube filled with liquid pleasure.