He nervously paced back and forth in the room adjoining the location of the conference. On a monitor, he could see that the room was packed with reporters and TV crews. He could see the hastily erected platform, and the long table, which was covered in microphones. At the rear of the room were banks of photographers and TV cameras. He hung his head.
“I’m not sure that I can do this dad.”
His dad put his arm around his son.
“You’ll be fine son, they are all here to help us.”
A couple of minutes before noon he followed the detectives into the room, the air was filled with the sound of camera shutters, and he was blinded by flashes as the photographers got their first glimpse of him, for a few seconds it was like being caught in a strobe light at a disco. Once they were all seated, cameras still clicked but less frequently, the conference started.
He kept his head down, as DI Rogers spoke, he gave all the details that they had, they showed some footage from the hospital CCTV and some taken at the Port of Dover. Appeals were made for the information on the four people in the footage who appeared to board the five-thirty ferry to Calais. Susan’s doctor gave a brief update on her condition, then, the atmosphere changed, and silence descended on the room. Alan felt a gentle nudge and he looked at the officer, it was his turn to speak.
He took out his pre-prepared statement, took a deep breath and began to read.
“My wife and I want to thank everyone.”
As he spoke, the intensity of the camera clicks, and flashes increased, as the reporters hung on his every word. He was surprised that he managed to get through it without breaking down, he knew that he had got the strength to do so from his wife, laid in bed, a few floors above him.
He put down the sheet of paper and looked to his right at DI Rogers, who announced that they would take questions. The first was directed towards Alan.
“Ian Dawson, Daily Mirror, Mr Charlton, how is your wife?”
Muffled groans spread throughout the room, but someone had to ask the obvious question, everyone was pleased it hadn’t fallen to them. The Inspector leaned into Alan and whispered that he didn’t have to answer that one, but Alan shook his head and leaned forward to speak into the bank of microphones.
“She’s devastated, we both are. Our world has collapsed. We came into this hospital nearly forty-eight hours ago full of joy, as happy as we’ve ever been, ready to welcome a new life into ours. And now.”
He paused, every eye, camera, and microphone in the room was focussed on him,
“Well, I’m not sure how she’ll recover from this, but she will have the support of all of our whole family.”
He leaned back, he felt exhausted as the cameras once again snapped photos of him, his father’s hand around his shoulder in support of his son. There was a pause in the room before the questions began again, he fielded those directed to him well, the Police and doctors helped him, they extended their answers to take up some of the allotted time. They left the platform at the end of their time, behind the scenes his father hugged him,
“You did brilliantly son.”
His mother came into the room, she had watched the conference in another room, they embraced.
“I’m so proud of you son.”
They sat on a sofa and watched the TV, as the hospital Trust executives took to the platform. They watched as the guys uttered their platitudes, justifying their procedures, and promising ‘to learn from this’. However, when it came to the questions from the floor, the atmosphere was different from what Alan had faced.
The first reporter was from the Daily Mail,
“After the incident three years ago, when a woman walked into their maternity unit and nearly managed to walk out with a new-born, only stopped by a suspicious member of the public, you told us that you had put new, tighter security measures into place and that it couldn’t happen again. So how come they were successful two nights ago?”
The questions didn’t stop there, and they were hounded for nearly ten minutes before the session was ended.
After the conference, DI Rogers congratulated Alan on his performance, and he suggested that they should think about getting Susan home, he felt that she would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. He assured him that there would be a police presence for as long as it was needed outside his house to keep the press at bay, Alan said that he would discuss it with her and her doctors.
Back in Susan’s room, everyone was delighted at his performance, he sat on the edge of her bed and told her about his conversation with her doctor, about going home. She was all for it and wouldn’t stop pestering him until he’d agreed to talk to the doctor there and then.
After a final check-up, she was released after promising the doctor to take it easy, he also said he would contact her GP who would no doubt be visiting her the following day, then, she was discharged.
She stepped out of the elevator together with Alan, DI Rogers and DS Collins led the way. They paused to say goodbye and to thank some of the nurses and staff who had assembled to see them off. Alan noticed the two executives standing a distance away, watching them leave, he didn’t acknowledge either of them.
DI Rogers guided them towards the exit, he felt her hold onto him a little tighter as they approached the automatic doors, he whispered that it would be alright as they stepped through the doors out into the fresh air. They were met by a wall of flashes, the banks of photographers taking the first photographs of the couple together. They took their lead from DI Rogers, they paused for a few seconds to let the photographers get their shots, then they were guided towards the waiting car, the rear door held open by a uniformed officer. She slipped into the back seat and he joined her, the door closed and the noise from outside was muted somewhat. DI Rogers got into the passenger seat and the car quickly left the hospital.
He noticed that the closer they got to home, the more congested the roads became. Cars and vans were parked on the grass verges on the approach roads to their street. There were a couple of TV broadcast vehicles parked in their road, not far from their house, their satellite dishes pointed to the sky. Again, Susan pulled herself into him, he hugged her and reassured her that they were there to help them.
They pulled up outside their house, his parent's car was in their drive. DI Rogers turned and explained that if they posed for a few photographs then he would make sure that they were left alone for the rest of the night.
“But remember, these people are the one who will keep your story on the front pages, so it’s worth going along with them, for now.”
DI Rogers got out before them and spoke to the assembled press, then Alan and Susan stepped out and walked up the drive, they paused halfway and turned, they stood, his arm around her waist, and faced a barrage of flashes as the press got all their photos. Alan thanked them then turned and led his wife into their home.
His father waited at the open front door, and when they all stepped inside, he closed it behind them. The detectives chatted for a few minutes then left. When his dad returned, he looked around, he rubbed his hands together.
“Okay, who’s for a cup of tea?”
A couple of hours later, their parents left, and, when Alan closed the door he walked back into the lounge, the house was quiet, they were alone. He sat beside Susan on the sofa and slid his arm behind her back and pulled her into his side and she started to sob. They didn’t talk, he just held her as she sobbed uncontrollably, he knew, that this was just the beginning.
Eventually, she fell asleep, he cradled her, gently stroking her hair. He listened to her rhythmical breathing, he was happy that she was asleep, she needed her rest, she needed to get her strength up, for the coming days ahead. He knew that she would need to fall back on her Catholic faith, whilst he didn’t follow any faith, he knew that her faith was important to her, and, he guessed that the coming days would be a huge test of that faith.
She was woken by the sound of his mobile, he apologised to her as he answered it, it was her sister, Linda. They spoke briefly then held out the phone towards his wife, a tiny smile crept onto her lips as she took the phone from him. He got up and made an excuse to leave, as he left the room, he heard Susan say,
“I’m okay sis.”
He knew that she was lying, trying not to worry her sister, at least she’s talking, it’s a start.
As she wandered into the kitchen he tried to act as relaxed as possible, he was stood beside the counter, two freshly poured cups of tea in front of him.
“How was your chat with Linda?”
“Oh, it was good, she’s coming over, she says she’s bringing some take-away. She thinks that I won’t eat, so she’s making sure that I do.”
“Is that what she told you?” His wife smiled,
“No, but it’s what she meant.”
He stood leaning against the counter in the kitchen and sipped his tea,
“Are you up for this Susan? Maybe it’s too soon?”
She looked at him, “You mean a takeaway with my sister?”
He said nothing.
“Of course, I am.”
He took her cup when she had finished and put it in the dishwasher.
“Why don’t you nip upstairs, get a shower, freshen up and change into something a bit more comfortable for you?”
Whilst he waited for Linda to arrive, he put on some music, Susan loved Coldplay, so he put on one of her favourite albums, ‘Mylo Xyloto’, and turned the volume down to low so that it played in the background and they could talk.
Before too long he heard Linda’s, car pull into their drive, his car was still parked at the hospital. He opened the front door and watched as she got out of her car. Glancing up at the few photographers and reporters who were stood on the opposite side of the road, he wondered how long they would be there for. As he hugged Linda a few flashes fired as they took shots of her arrival. He closed the door quickly behind them.
He took the bags of food from her and she followed him into the kitchen. As they started to open the containers she asked about Susan.
“How’s she doing Alan?”
“She seems okay, I don’t think that she’s letting me in, but it’s early days.”
Before Linda could reply they heard Susan come downstairs.
“Hmmm, something smells good guys.”
The sisters hugged, Susan looked happy to see her little sister, and as they did the usual.
‘How are you doing? Oh, I’m fine, how’s everyone at home?’ thing, Alan began to dish up the food.
“Come on you two, let’s sit down and eat before this gets cold.”
Sat around the table, they tucked into their food. Alan watched his wife, she ate well, she hadn’t eaten properly for a couple of days and he was so happy that she was tucking into her food, Linda had brought all her favourites, including spring rolls, sticky ribs, prawn crackers, the lot. In the end, they were all full up. Alan sat back in his chair, and pushed his plate away,
Susan followed him, pushing her chair back and placed her hand on her belly, she rubbed softly across her bump, now significantly smaller than it was, but still large enough to suggest that she had recently carried a child in there. As she rubbed, she looked down at her hand as it slid slowly across her dress, her eyes focussed on the bump, where only seventy-two hours ago her unborn daughter had kicked her hard, announcing that she was about to arrive.
Linda noticed her sister fixating on her belly, she stood up and started to collect the plates.
“Come on Susan, forget the dishwasher tonight. You and I will do the dishes old school.”
She glanced at Alan who smiled at her, he knew what she was doing. Susan snapped out of her trance and lifted her head.
“Okay sis, I’ll help you.”
Alan left, he knew that Linda would be able to coax Susan’s feelings out of her, the sisters were very close. Half an hour later they joined him, he could tell that both had been crying, but they carried on as if everything was normal.