An Eye for an Eye – Carol Wyer

Kate blamed her clumsiness on the erratic swaying of the outdated train, rather than the wine she’d drunk, or the little white pills she’d taken to help her get through the flesh-pressing, back-slapping event. She preferred to work the investigations rather than be commended for her, or her team’s, actions. The pills had been necessary. The wine had not. In the small train bathroom, Kate rinsed her palms with cold water. She had got through the event and could concentrate again on day-to-day business. Rather than pointlessly networking, she would rather have been wrapping up a recent drugs bust. Her thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing of her mobile phone. She shook her hands dry then slid the device from her pocket, and as she did, the train lurched to the left, sending her phone skidding towards the toilet. With an exasperated click of her tongue she leant forward to retrieve it, but it was trapped behind the cistern. She manoeuvred her body into the space between the toilet and the wall, and slid down to capture it between her long slim fingers. No sooner had she gripped it than the train lurched once more and the bathroom door flew open, smashing against the steel bowl with a clatter. The noise took her by surprise. The stupid latch hadn’t caught properly. Or had she not locked it? The alcohol was to blame.

It had impaired her faculties. She probably forgot to lock it. Now, stuck behind the door, she shoved it away with her elbow in annoyance. Aided by the swaying train, it shut, allowing her to back away from the toilet, phone in hand. The screen displayed ‘Unknown Caller’. She edged back into the corridor, turning right towards the doors with ‘First Class’ etched into the frosted glass, before pausing to gain balance on the swaying train. At first, she didn’t register the sound of popping, like a champagne cork, but when it happened a second time she looked up. She blinked. No. It isn’t possible.

Not again. Her brain scrambled to make sense of the scene in front of her. The fuzziness she’d been experiencing vanished, and the wine she’d drunk transformed into a giant acidic lump in her throat. Ahead of her, a figure marched through the train car. His arm was raised and in it a weapon swung left and right, systematically shooting passengers. Pop! A piercing scream rose only to be wiped out by the train’s gears. Shards of ice travelled through every vein in her body, and for the first time in her life, DI Kate Young was paralysed with fear. Suddenly, the bathroom door swinging open made sense. The man had kicked it in to check no one was inside. The very act of forgetting to lock it might have saved her life.

She had no time to reflect. One part of her brain screamed at her to run and hide and a voice in her head anchored her to the spot. It’s happening again. A gunman was wiping out the train. What if he wasn’t acting alone and there were others with him, callously taking the lives of men, women and children? There could be another killer behind her. What should she do? Pop! She glanced behind her, towards the shut metal doors separating the carriages. There was nobody. At least, not yet. The man in first class might be a loner. She had to hope he was.

Training and instinct finally took over as she pressed herself against the wall of the speeding train, knees knocking and heart smashing against her ribcage. She had to act, and quickly. She inhaled deeply and then reached for the door handle, tugged it downwards, and raced through the gap as the doors parted. The man was ahead. Four paces . three paces . two paces. She was within striking distance. She extended her arm, ready to surprise him, grab him around the neck, pull him to the floor and disarm him. Somebody leapt up and blocked the aisle.

‘Kate!’ It was a soft growl. Superintendent John Dickson’s face was grim. ‘Sit down, Kate.’ The train rattled from side to side, shaking her back to reality. An unlatched window slapped shut. Pop! The man she’d almost attacked was unaware of what had happened and continued through the train carriage and out of the far doors. There was no gun in his hand, only a rolled-up copy of the Metro. John’s warm hand firmly grasped her upper arm, his fingers digging into the soft flesh. Confusion washed over her. She’d been so certain of what she’d seen.

She edged back into her seat. John squeezed in beside her. ‘John, what just happened?’ she whispered. ‘You almost injured a member of the public, but you caught a lucky break. I was watching out for you. You’ve been jumping at shadows ever since . ever since . well, we don’t need to discuss the matter. Not here.’ His voice drifted over her.

She stared ahead, hands gripping the armrest, heart thumping solidly in her chest. What was the matter with her? She never got it wrong. ‘Kate . I’m saying this as a concerned colleague, rather than your boss. Your reaction was understandable. You’ve been under an enormous amount of strain recently, but you can’t keep pushing yourself. I know you were against taking too much time off in January and you threw yourself back into work against all advice, but this proves we’re right to be worried about you. You should not be here.’ She stared at him. What did he mean? She’d proven herself competent, hadn’t she? The incident two months ago had been traumatic, but she and other officers affected by it had taken some time off and attended the counselling offered at the time.

This was a blip. The pills. It was most likely the pills that had made her jump to conclusions. She cursed herself for mixing them with alcohol. Surely Superintendent Dickson knew this slip-up was uncharacteristic of her? She focused on his lips. He was still speaking. She tuned back in. His voice was like melted butter. ‘I want you to take extended leave, maybe go on holiday, get away for a while in the sunshine. It’d do you good.

’ She had been working hard – maybe too hard, but it was understandable, wasn’t it? She’d been trying to get to the truth for two months. She couldn’t take time off. Not yet. Dickson’s face was pure sincerity, but a voice in her head exactly like her husband Chris’s scoffed, ‘Time away from the force, so you can’t rattle any cages.’ ‘I’m fine. Just a little tired . the wine.’ ‘No, Kate. You need to take some proper time off. And that’s an order.

’ He returned his attention to the book lying face down on the table, leaving her with her thoughts. ‘He’s worried, Kate. And worried men have something to hide.’ CHAPTER ONE FRIDAY, 4 JUNE 2021 – MORNING Kate was trying not to scream. Anguished howls reverberated in her head. She scrabbled for sanity and found it hidden in the recesses of her mind. She knew she was dreaming. The same nightmare she’d had almost every night for the last two months. She would wake up. She had to ride it out, control it like Dr Franklin had told her.

‘Part of your brain will comprehend you’re experiencing a nightmare, no matter how real it feels, and your mind will protect you. Let your consciousness assimilate what is happening to you and, in time, it will learn to influence what ensues in the nightmare. You can control it.’ Stood in the swaying corridor of the four-thirty train from Euston, Kate pressed her back against the wall of the corridor, spread her feet to gain balance and thumbed the mobile. What kept her rooted to her spot was the sight of the shadowy figure beyond the closed doors, head and shoulders turning left and right as it advanced up the aisle, systematically picking off the occupants, one by one. Dr Franklin was right. This was a lucid dream and no matter how much Kate wanted to influence the outcome, she was powerless to do anything other than observe. The murderer moved slowly, so slowly. Kate’s fingers, slick with sweat, slid over the mobile’s screen and she pressed the phone to her ear. The whooshing and clunking of the train’s coupling as it stretched and strained in the corridor drowned out the voice at the other end of the line.

Kate spoke, but there was no sound. It was as if the soundtrack in her head had been muted. Then came another sound, like the chattering of a thousand excited parrots. The noise amplified and the parrots transformed into something more recognisable, a regular sound: an alarm. Kate’s limbs were incapable of movement. She willed her hand to lift and silence the noise coming from her bedside table, but it refused to cooperate, and too foggy with sleep, Kate remained immobile. There was a grunt behind her and the din ceased. Kate fought for consciousness, desperate to shake off the horrendous nightmare. ‘Bad night?’ Chris asked. He asked the same question most mornings, even though most mornings she didn’t reply.

She didn’t need to. The sweat-soaked pillow held the answer to his question. ‘Yes. The usual.’ ‘The doctor explained it would be like this for quite some time. You know, Kate, those pills aren’t helping you. Maybe you should lay off them.’ Her lips felt numb as she mumbled, ‘I will.’ ‘I mean it, Kate. You’re so .

well . not yourself these days. You should ditch the pills and think about returning to work.’ ‘What if I have another lapse and actually harm an innocent person this time?’ ‘You won’t.’ ‘I might. If Dickson hadn’t been there—’ His voice was stern. ‘Kate, listen to me. We’ve spoken about this. You slipped up. You were stressed.

The guy looked suspicious. You reacted appropriately to what you thought was happening at the time. Hardly a big surprise, given what happened to—’ ‘Don’t. Don’t talk about it. Stop right now.’ She pulled the duvet over her ears. She didn’t want to discuss the matter any further. She’d screwed up and it hurt. She’d valued her reputation, pleased to follow in her father’s footsteps, proud of what she’d achieved, and one action had negated everything she’d striven for. The fact she’d slipped up in front of Dickson was even worse.

Chris fell silent for a moment then asked, ‘You okay?’ ‘Yes. Thanks.’ Chris had always been there for her. He would never let her down. In that she had supreme confidence. She loved the very bones of this man. The very bones. It had been one of her father’s expressions. In this case, as eye-rolling as it was, Kate felt it was true. She’d met Chris at an accident scene in September 2015.

She’d been off duty when she witnessed the foreign lorry, oblivious to the BMW overtaking it, swerve from the middle carriageway of the M6 into the fast lane and propel the car into the central reservation. Hit with such force, the BMW had been thrown into the air, then, rolling over and over, it had landed on the opposite carriageway, mangled and torn. The services had arrived promptly, but Kate had been on the scene immediately. The occupant of the car was alive, his face bruised but with broad features and the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. His legs had been trapped by the steering wheel and crumpled metalwork. He didn’t appear overwhelmed by what had happened. It was the shock and adrenalin that had protected him and so Kate stayed with him, talking to him the whole time as they waited for help. He’d been surprisingly articulate, given the situation. ‘I know it sounds stupid,’ he’d said to her, ‘but could you hold my hand? I’d feel better if you did.’ She’d taken his wide hand in her own and held it gently.

‘You have lovely soft hands,’ he’d said, his eyelids fluttering as he began to drift out of consciousness. She was losing him. She couldn’t let that happen. She squeezed his hand and, when he focused on her, grinned at him. ‘It’s not the worst chat-up line I’ve heard.’ ‘When I get out of here, I’ll treat you to some truly awful chat-up lines.’ ‘I’ll look forward to that. But I’m paying. My treat.’ ‘Bossy.

’ ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘I like that.’ She’d stayed. Right up to the point the paramedics and firemen asked her to move aside, and then she’d reluctantly done as requested, anxious for the stranger, now unconscious. She’d stood beside the roadside while they cut him free from the wreckage and lifted him into the air ambulance to transport him to hospital, and she’d driven the forty miles to Stoke-on-Trent hospital immediately afterwards, where she’d waited to hear how he was. She’d stayed all night, and the following morning, at five o’clock, when he’d come around from the operation to repair his shattered leg, she’d been his first visitor. The man with the sea-green eyes had somehow smashed through the invisible armour she wore to protect herself from feeling too deeply. The bedcovers shifted as Chris sat up. The warm, comfortable sensation was replaced by cool air. Her heart felt easier.

The first rays of light were creeping through the gaps in the curtains and a car was starting up outside, its engine chugging into life. People were stirring, getting into their daily routines. Kate would get into hers. She’d go for a run, shower and then . Sleep was coming for her again, wrapping its tentacles around her and dragging her back from the surface. This time she relaxed into it, allowing it to pull her into its soft embrace, and she sank into a dreamless, numbing sleep. When she awoke later it was with a mouth dry and stale, the product of the medication. The bitter taste in her mouth made her grimace. She plodded downstairs, still in her nightwear – one of Chris’s old work shirts. No one would see her.

What did it matter if she hung about the place dressed for bed? It wasn’t as if she had to be anywhere. A stab of shame made her consider pulling on her running gear and going out. She’d let her exercise routine slide badly. It’d been a while since she’d taken the usual route through the park and around the lake, alternating sprints with longer periods of jogging, before stopping beside the gnarled chestnut tree to go through a rigorous exercise and stretch routine that would leave her shiny with sweat and high on endorphins. Two months, to be exact. Another day off wouldn’t hurt. The pills. Chris was right. She should give them up, but they took the edge off her nerves and helped her through the mind-numbing days. She needed them.

Maybe she could cut down. Little by little. She poured filtered water into a glass, popped two from the silver-foil packet next to the kettle, and downed them. The liquid slipped down her throat, a cool, refreshing trickle. She dropped on to the bar stool next to the trendy island, all thoughts evaporating as she stared with unfocused eyes into space. A clatter of the letterbox brought her back to her senses. She’d no idea how long she’d been transfixed. She lost a lot of time these days. Anaesthetised was good. She collected the letter – junk mail – and threw it on the kitchen top, her attention drawn to the cereal box standing there.

Chris had scrawled on a sticky note and stuck it to the box. She read it and chuckled. ‘These are yummy. Please buy some more of them.’ He’d added a smiley face. Chris always ate breakfast, no matter what time he got up. She’d known him settle down with a bowl of cereal at 2 a.m. This variety contained chocolate pieces. She’d buy him some more when she went to the shops.

Would she go today? She put on the radio and turned it off almost immediately. The music hurt her ears, making her wince. Who’d have thought auditory senses could be so sensitive? She trudged to the sink and stared into the garden, focusing on a clump of wild poppies with vivid scarlet petals that had chosen to grow in the garden border. Why had they seeded here? Poppies were for remembrance, and she didn’t want to remember. She wanted to forget. A local landscaping company had designed the area for the busy couple who didn’t enjoy gardening, and succeeded in producing a garden with low-maintenance plants and shrubs producing all-year-round colour, AstroTurf that looked like real grass, and wooden decking, perfect for entertaining. The decking had been her choice; the fire pit for barbecues, with the semi-circular stone seating, had been Chris’s. The first year, they’d hung up palm-tree-shaped fairy lights for a tropical feel, and on the warm summer evenings, they’d snuggled up on plump cushions, replete with feasts of grilled meat, to watch the fire as it glowed crimson reds and deep orange until it finally died away. The second year, the summer hadn’t been so kind to them and they’d spent less time outside. The cushions housed in the blue-painted garden house at the bottom of the garden hadn’t been out for a long time.

Five years? Chris had taken on more assignments. He’d received the recognition he deserved, but that success meant longer spells away and she, well, Kate had always been a career woman. They ought to make more time to enjoy the fire pit and romantic seating. She’d drag out the fairy lights and see if they still worked . The figure walks down the carriage, his back to her, gun in his hand. She blinked hard to dispel the image. The pills were having an effect. A familiar haze was descending, wrapping itself around her like an invisible soft blanket. She wound her arms around herself protectively. Deep breaths.

In. Out. In. The image of the train carriage swam out of view as she let out a final lengthy breath. With slow movements she made her way to the kettle, filled it. She must unearth the fairy lights. It would be nice to sit outside. It was beginning to feel warmer of an evening. The ring of the doorbell jerked her from her reverie and she ambled into the hall once more. The person who greeted her was the last she expected to see.

DCI William Chase, dressed in jeans and a checked shirt better suited to a cowboy than a fifty-eight-year-old detective, was standing awkwardly, a small bunch of flowers in his meaty hands. His chestnut eyes bore an apologetic look, eyebrows half-raised as if expecting confrontation. He thrust the flowers towards her. ‘From the boys. Their favourites.’ By ‘boys’, William meant his bees. He was a keen apiarist with several hives on an allotment, and actively promoted the protection of bees. She took the bouquet of freesias, breathing in their perfume and admired the rich golden hues of their delicate petals. ‘Come in, William,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled.

‘Is it a bad time?’ ‘It’s always a bad time.’ She left the door open and moved off, leaving him to wipe his feet and follow her into the kitchen. He took a seat without being invited to do so, and watched in silence as she filled a glass vase and dropped in the flowers before placing them on the kitchen table. ‘They’re beautiful. Tell the boys they have good taste.’ ‘I shall.’ His eyes searched her face. ‘Kate, I’m not going to beat about the bush, here.’ Kate had always got on exceptionally well with William. He was more than her DCI; he was a close family friend, somebody who had stood by her throughout her life and career.

‘What is it?’ William’s jowls had sagged, creating creases in his neck, giving him an appearance of a tortoise, an impression further enhanced as he craned his neck to look in the direction of the garden. Over the years, his once jet-black eyebrows had turned the same grey as his hair, which in turn had thinned to reveal a pate spotted with dark liver patches, but his eyes were still as bright as the day he’d taken over the department. He cast them on her. ‘Superintendent Dickson wants you back. He’s asked for you.’ ‘He has?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I don’t think I’m ready,’ she said, turning away from him. Outside, a few drops of rain splattered against the window. Maybe today wasn’t a good day to fetch the cushions and fairy lights from the shed. ‘I know it’s been tough for you, and I understand if you want to take more time off, but you have to face up to coming back at some point.

You’re not a quitter, Kate.’ William had been one of her father’s closest friends. If she closed her eyes, she could conjure up an image of the two of them chugging cans of beer, laughing and joking in her dad’s kitchen. William was one of the reasons she’d joined the force, and in spite of his relationship with her father, he’d never shown any favouritism when it came to work. He’d treated her as he did all his officers, and that was how she’d wanted it. He wouldn’t have come here today to ask her to return to work without good cause. ‘Why me?’ ‘Because you’re the best we have.’ ‘What if I screw up again? I messed up on the train and in front of him. I’m surprised he wants me back.’ William let the ensuing silence hang between them and cast his eyes around the pristine kitchen.

It looked like it had been prepared for a photoshoot for a home-and-garden glossy magazine feature – almost too clean, nothing out of place, and no impression of anyone actually living in or using it.

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