The Liar’s Daughter – Rona Halsall

The ambulance rocked as Ifan negotiated the stony track. ‘Oh my God, I’m feeling seasick,’ Ann said, clutching the door handle. ‘Are we even going to make it?’ She peered ahead through a low tunnel of trees. ‘Looks like it evens off up here.’ Ifan swung the vehicle round a tight bend, his manoeuvre accompanied by the screeching of branches as they scratched along the paintwork. ‘But this is what you call seriously remote.’ They were attending a call at a farmhouse situated in a high valley that ran along the mountainside at the back of Beddgelert, in the heart of northern Snowdonia. As locations went, it was a nightmare to get to. Ann always dreaded calls to the area because the single-track roads weren’t designed for four-ton ambulances. There were no landing places for the air ambulance, and often the first responder would be sent out in their smaller vehicle. However, with a massive area to cover and limited resources, it was a matter of who was available to take the call. Ifan had a different mindset to her; he fancied himself as a bit of a rally driver and saw it as a challenge. Ann held the door handle tighter, her body thrown from side to side as Ifan negotiated the bend. ‘I hope this isn’t a hoax,’ she murmured, looking through the windscreen for signs of a house. ‘The dispatcher thought it was genuine, but I suppose there’s no telling.

The woman just asked for help, managed to give her address and said she’d had an accident. Then said she felt faint and went quiet.’ Ann grimaced. ‘They’re always the worst calls. You just don’t know what you’re going to find: dead or alive?’ ‘Here we go.’ Ifan hunched over the wheel, peering under the branches. ‘House up there in the trees.’ ‘Thank God.’ Ann could see it now, the hulk of a stone building looming through the foliage. ‘Can’t say I’m looking forward to going back down that track, though.’ The ambulance pulled to a stop and the paramedics climbed out. Ann shivered. ‘Someone just walked over my grave,’ she said, glancing around. ‘It’s a bit creepy up here, don’t you think?’ Ifan laughed as he jumped in the back to get their bags of equipment. ‘You’re a right townie, Ann.

I’d love to live somewhere like this. Peace and quiet. No bloody neighbours playing loud music at two in the morning.’ He scowled as he passed her the bags. ‘They were at it again last night; seems like party night every night with that family. Mind you, even I wouldn’t fancy going up and down this track too often. No handy shops if you run out of anything.’ The farmhouse sat squat in the landscape, nestled against the slope of a field at the back and protected by woodland on either side. Handsome and well proportioned, it was a nice-looking place when you got up close, if a bit run-down. They were at quite a height, and a cold wind whipped Ann’s fringe off her forehead. She shivered again and zipped up her jacket as they hurried towards the front door. Red paint curled away from the woodwork. Ifan banged the knocker, which was brass and shaped like a lion’s head. They waited for a moment. The assumption was that the woman was on her own, but you never knew.

They couldn’t go barging in. ‘Ambulance,’ they both called. When there was no reply, Ifan tried the door. It was open. He called out again as he went inside, Ann following. They entered a well-proportioned hallway, stairs ahead of them, a door to either side at the bottom. With a practised routine, they checked the place. Two reception rooms, as an estate agent would call them. One formal, with a dining table at the far end and a couple of armchairs by the window. Bookcases stuffed to the gills, and an old-fashioned bureau in the alcove at one side of the fireplace. The other room was obviously used as a sitting room, with a battered leather sofa in front of the inglenook fireplace, which housed a wood-burning stove. A scattering of mismatched chairs. An old TV in the corner. Family photos on the walls. They hurried down the hallway to the kitchen.

It was a big room that ran the width of the back of the house. Old-fashioned units lined the walls, probably put in twenty years ago or more. The floor was quarry tiles, worn to the sort of smoothness that only happened over many years. A woman lay sprawled across a large kitchen table that stood in the centre of the room. Her dark hair, streaked with grey, tumbled over her shoulders. As they got closer, Ann could see a patch of scarlet on the back of her head, blood caked in her hair, glistening as it oozed from a long, jagged wound. ‘Nasty head injury,’ Ifan said, bending closer to give it a proper inspection. Ann put two fingers against the woman’s neck, glad to feel warm skin, the throb of a heartbeat. ‘Definitely alive,’ she said. ‘But her pulse is a bit thready. She might be in shock.’ Ifan bent to look at the woman’s face, which was turned towards the back door, her head resting on a handbag, her hand curled round a phone. ‘She’s breathing.’ Gently he rubbed her shoulder. ‘Hello.

Can you hear me?’ They were both still, listening. No response. ‘Hello.’ He tried again. ‘You called an ambulance. Can you hear me?’ ‘Possible fractured skull, I would imagine, with a wound like that,’ Ann said, studying the back of the woman’s head. ‘What do you think? Has she been attacked? Do we need to get the police up here?’ Ifan took a moment to reply, scanning the room as if he might see someone crouching in the corner, ready to pounce. A loud bang made them both jump, followed by a whoosh of cold air. He gave a nervous laugh. ‘Must be the door.’ He looked towards the hallway. ‘I don’t think I closed it.’ ‘This looks suspicious to me.’ Ann could feel her own heart racing, adrenaline coursing round her body. She’d been attacked recently when trying to help a patient and the fear was fresh in her mind.

That time they were on the street, though, and it was Saturday night, the remnants of a party breaking up in a nearby pub. She’d been a bit jumpy ever since; now she was feeling increasingly uneasy. ‘Whoever did this might still be here.’ Ifan was already busy putting a bandage round the woman’s head to keep the wound clean. ‘Let’s move her to the floor, get her stabilised.’ ‘Okay. Then I’m calling the police. No way she did this to herself, is there?’ ‘Nope. Definitely a non-accidental injury.’ The woman murmured something, her words thick and indistinguishable. Ann bent towards her. ‘Hello. We’re paramedics. Can you hear me?’ The woman was trying to speak, her mouth pushed up against the handbag, making it tricky for her to move her lips. ‘We’re just going to make you a bit more comfortable,’ Ifan said, taking up his position at the woman’s side as he and Ann prepared to move her to the floor, where they could do more thorough checks.

It was imperative to make sure that her oxygen levels were okay and get a cannula in. The woman grunted and tried to move, but it was obviously a struggle. ‘It’s okay,’ Ann murmured, reassuring her as they manoeuvred her out of the chair. The phone fell from her hand onto the table, but her other hand remained clasped round the strap of her bag. ‘Can I just take this and put it on the table?’ Ann said, pulling at the bag. But the woman became agitated, her hand tightening round the strap. Ifan shook his head and Ann let the bag rest on the woman’s stomach as they laid her on the floor. ‘There, you just relax. We won’t be long, then we can be on our way to hospital.’ The woman’s eyes opened and she mumbled something that sounded like thank you. ‘How did this happen? Were you attacked?’ Ann asked as she found a vein for the cannula. ‘Accident,’ the woman managed to say, before leaning to the side and vomiting on the floor. No food as such, just bile. ‘Concussion at the very least,’ Ifan observed, passing Ann the bag of saline. ‘Blood pressure is low, so we’ll get this going, see if it helps.

I’ll nip out for the stretcher.’ ‘It was definitely an accident?’ Ann asked, doing what she could to wipe her patient’s face clean. ‘Because I can get the police to come and check the house if someone attacked you.’ ‘Accident,’ the woman repeated, her voice coming in breathy gasps, face screwed up in pain. ‘In the barn. Floorboard went.’ She gave a low moan. ‘Tools fell out of the loft.’ ‘You live alone?’ Ann asked, following her own line of logic as she set up the drip. Her eyes scanned the room, noting the boots beside the range. Different sizes. There could be an abusive partner around and the woman was too frightened to point the finger. You never knew in these situations, and her explanation didn’t really fit with the injury. Ann was sure there was more to this than a blow to the head. There might be other injuries they couldn’t see and the low blood pressure could be a sign of internal bleeding.

The woman muttered an inaudible reply before her eyes fluttered closed and her head flopped to the side. Ann glanced up as Ifan hurried through from the hallway, pushing the stretcher. ‘Quick! She’s gone again. Lost consciousness. Pulse is still there, but erratic. We need to get a move on.’ They lifted her onto the stretcher, gathering their bags of equipment and checking they’d got everything. The woman’s fingers were still hooked round the strap of the handbag. Ann tucked the phone inside. They were just by the front door when another loud bang made her jump. Ifan glanced over his shoulder. ‘Got to say, this place is giving me the creeps now.’ ‘Do you think there’s someone else here?’ Ann asked as she guided the stretcher towards the back of the ambulance. ‘Who knows? Not our job to find out, is it? We need to focus on getting her to hospital.’ The wind rushed through the trees, sending branches clattering against each other, boughs creaking and squeaking.

They both looked round at the sudden surge of noise. ‘She said it was an accident. In the barn. But I’m not sure.’ Ann scrunched up her nose. ‘What do you think? Call the police?’ ‘Can’t do any harm,’ Ifan agreed as they pushed the stretcher into place. ‘I’ll make the call if you want to get sorted in the back here. Get ready for a bumpy ride back down.’ Ann’s stomach rolled just thinking about it. She set to work getting the drip set up and making sure the woman’s airways were clear, her breathing settled ready for the journey. ‘Police are on their way,’ Ifan said a few minutes later, before shutting the back door. She heard the driver’s door slam, then the engine thrummed to life and they were off. She studied the woman’s face, thin and angular, like her body. Almost malnourished, she would say. It wasn’t unusual on these remote farms, where it was impossible to make a proper living off the land.

People scraped by with what they could grow, selling a bit, doing another job to bring in some money. She’d noticed the woman’s ear lobes were torn, as if earrings had been ripped out at some point. A sign of abuse? ‘You’re safe now,’ she murmured, sure that her own conclusion was correct. This was no accident.


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Updated: 10 June 2021 — 18:21

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