From the Cradle
by Keith Wright
Copyright@ Keith Wright 1997,2019
First Published in the Short Story Anthology – ‘City of Crime’
All characters included in this story are fictitious and are not intended to bear any resemblance to any individuals, alive or dead.
Contains realistic and graphic descriptions of death and includes issues which some readers may find upsetting or offensive. It is intended for adults only
This short story first appeared in the anthology ‘City of Crime’ edited by David Belbin in 1997. David asked me to contribute along with other authors who had a connection with the city of Nottingham. The only brief we had was that it must be in, or have relevance to, the city of Nottingham. Nottingham had been branded the ‘City of Crime’, as at the time, its murder and overall crime rate per capita was the highest in the country. At the time, I was the Detective Sergeant covering the area which had the highest crime rate, in the city! The anthology was published by Five Leaves Publishing and, I believe is still available.
It was an honour to contribute to the work, not least because it was alongside such luminaries as Alan Sillitoe, John Harvey and HRF Keeting. It gave me the opportunity to play with some new characters and I wanted to make the story have a twist at the end, and at the same time be thought-provoking. Whether I succeeded is to be decided by the reader. I hope you enjoy it.
The nurse was really quite pretty. Her thick black hair was tied back behind her head, her smile instinctive. Claire had that tired, worldly-wise look in her eyes that gave away the trauma she had witnessed in her eight years in the Casualty Department at the Queen’s Medical Centre. Claire spoke concisely but sympathetically, occasionally glancing down at the wad of paper in her hand.
‘The Ambulance arrived at 0733. Both parents were with the baby. Distraught, as you might imagine, bless them. The paramedic had attempted resus, but to no avail. Mr Ortega, the on duty Registrar pronounced life extinct at 0745. It appears to be a case of IDS.
The two detectives had listened carefully. The Detective Sergeant; Andy Chase, a man in his mid-thirties with swept back hair had been to A & E many times, and knew Claire, to speak to. She always had a smile for everyone. The reason for their visit was not a smiling matter. Andy had a young detective with him, slightly shorter than he; Chris Ferrigno, an Anglo/Italian who was almost dribbling at the lips in the presence of Claire. Not only was the girl attractive, she was clever and charming also. His DS toyed with his watch and took the lead in the conversation.
‘Any sign of injuries, Claire?’
‘I’ll let you have a look for yourself, Andy, she’s over there.’
The three moved slowly towards the Perspex see-through cot. The area was cordoned off by the screens, but the general hub-bub of people going about their business could be heard.
Chris Ferrigno was trying to conceal the fact that this was his first cot death. His black hair glistened slightly with sweat as it met his tanned forehead. He had bitten his lip when Claire had alluded to IDS, and he eventually managed to work out that the acronym stood for sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At twenty two, he was the youngest Detective Constable on the force. He had a lot to learn, but was as keen as mustard. His main mistake was trying to mask his obvious inexperience by bravado or over-confidence. Ferrigno looked less than comfortable being confronted with this situation, and all his swagger and chewing gum could not disguise it. He peered tentatively over Claire’s shoulder at the baby. The baby looked like a doll, the skin was very white and almost porcelain-like. She was clothed in a pink cotton suit with a rabbit motif, the same clothing she was wearing when admitted.
Chris blurted out. ‘What’s its name?’
Claire frowned. ‘Its name is Sally. She’s in pink, you know, pink for a girl, blue for a boy.’ She cast a glance at Chase, who raised his eyes skywards.
‘Go on then Chris, take the baby’s clothing off and let’s have a proper look at her.’
Ferrigno reached forward and began fumbling around the clothing, turning the baby on her back, searching aimlessly for buttons to undo. By chance, his finger caught one of the press studs along the inside of the baby’s leg and he began pulling them open. The baby had just begun to stiffen with rigor mortis, which made the removal of the clothes slightly more difficult. Once the suit was removed he saw the nappy. His heart sank and sweat began to bead on his forehead. Ferrigno swiped through his hair, primarily to remove the sweat.
‘Come out the way, will you, we’ll be here all day.’ Claire removed the nappy, which was dirty, and cleaned up the mess. Ferrigno felt sick as the foul stench of green slime floated towards him.
‘Jesus! There’s got to be something wrong with its insides to produce that. Christ!’
Chase grinned. ‘Newly born baby poo sometimes looks and smells like that. Beautiful isn’t it?’ He smirked at Claire. ‘Can’t you tell he’s a bachelor?’
Ferrigno was eager to see Claire’s reaction. She merely muttered an ‘I can tell, all right.’
‘Right then Chris. Get hold of the baby and let’s see if there are any marks of violence.’
Ferrigno took hold of the small body and examined it. Lifting the arms up with the tips of his fingers, the stiff limbs preventing any great amount of movement.
‘Nope. Can’t see owt.’
‘Pass her to me.’ Chase instructed.
He held the face of baby Sally very closely to his own, scrutinising it.
Ferrigno responded. ‘What? What is it?’
‘Probably nothing.’ He put the baby down gently in the cot and covered her with the small white blanket. He grimaced and shook his head slightly. ‘Thanks, Claire. See you again no doubt.’ He grasped her forearm and squeezed it. Giving her a comforting smile. Chase turned and walked away, pursued by Ferrigno. He was still puzzled, and had to almost jog to keep up with his Detective Sergeant.
‘What did you see, Sarge?’
‘As I said, probably nothing. I thought I could see a slight mark on her cheek. The post mortem’s later, we’ll sort it then I guess.’
Mortuaries stink. Their smell is almost indescribable but is a soft mixture of rotting cabbages and bleach. They always put you on edge. They have large clanking shutters at one end of the room to allow undertakers vehicles to drive inside, and a wall of large drawers covers one side, the contents of which need no further explanation. Opposite is the Post Mortem room, next to the office-cum-tea mashing office.
Andy Chase and Chris Ferrigno stood in their white coveralls, and plastic covers over their shoes. Normally, there are large tools on display at adult post mortems, hack saws, trepans, hammers and chisels; to access the brain and other internal organs. These are not required for babies. A saw is required to cut through a tree trunk, but only sharp scissors are needed for cardboard.
The pathologist was a grey-haired gentleman. Away from the mortuary, he could easily be mistaken for a retired businessman, perhaps strolling through the grounds of Nottingham Castle, or maybe blending in with tourist’s picnicking in Sherwood Forest. He wore a surgeon’s garb of Lincoln Green with calf-length wellington boots.
Chris Ferrigno never made it all the way through the obscene, but necessary butchery that unfolded. He had to leave for air, ten minutes into the macabre scene. Chase didn’t blame him too much. Thankfully, such sights are restricted to a handful of people in society and only a sense of duty rooted him to the spot. As they discarded their disposable clothes the pathologist joined them.
‘I share your concern, Sergeant Chase.’
The DS was hopping around, trying to get the waxed paper coverall over the heel of his foot. ‘Okay.’
‘The two main factors of concern are the petechial haemorrhaging in the whites of the baby’s eyes and then perhaps more so, the bruising at the side of the mouth. Three spots. . . ‘
Chase cut him short. ‘Finger marks?’
‘It looks that way I’m afraid. The cause of death is; 1A: Lack of oxygen and 1B Heart failure. The Coroner is going to need a full investigation, Andy.’
With that the pathologist returned through the clear plastic doors back into the morgue.
Chase glanced at Ferrigno who asked for a translation.
‘Petechial Haemorrhaging are small red dots found on skin and more commonly the whites of the eyes if the victim has been deprived of oxygen. The small blood vessels in the eyes burst and pop, leaving the tiny red dots visible.’
Ferrigno looked slightly puzzled. ‘Yes, but surely we all die of lack of oxygen once we stop breathing. There’s no dead body that I’ve come across yet, who is still pulling breath!’
Chase grunted a laugh, as he rubbed his fingers through his hair, returning the displaced strands. ‘True, Andy, but the give-away is the bruising; once the surface of the cheek was cut away showing the darker red clotting underneath. Seemingly it was caused by the placing of a hand over the mouth. We may well have a case of murder, and I don’t think we need to look much further for our suspects, do we?’
‘You mean the parents.’
‘Ten out of ten, we’ll make a detective out of you yet. Come on.’
Eastwood is a former mining village which marks the border between Nottingham and Derby. It is a country town surrounded by rolling fields. Like most places it has a small area that is inhabited by those partial to lawlessness and a flagrant disregard for others. Phoenix Street was as infamous to the local police, as the nearby birthplace of DH Lawrence was famous, to the local community. Phoenix Street was formed by a seemingly endless row of terraced housing that ran parallel to the town’s main street. As the two Detectives parked their car and walked down the slight gradient towards the street, they could not fail to take in their surroundings, shrouded in a hue of what smelled like rotten vegetables. A trail of smoke filtered across the row of gardens emanating from a distant garden fire. The terraced housing, skewered by streams of sunlight spewed out all manner of contraptions and miscellany onto their back gardens; prams, bicycles, car engines, motor bikes, dolls, dirty washing, clean washing, old washing machines, cats, dogs, rabbits, dead birds, live birds, bird muck, confectionary wrappers, crisp papers, bins, rubbish bags, loose rubbish, coal, fag ends, beer bottles, beer cans, used contraceptives, nappies, dummies, babies bottles, babies, children, people, pots and pans.
It was a strange quirk of fate that almost all the local criminal population lived on the street that ran parallel to the main shopping area. A place that even the inquisitive and needy Lady Chatterley would not be seen dead in. There was certainly little evidence of gardeners being employed in the locale, judging by the long grass and lack of flora or fauna. Interspersed amongst the degradation was the occasional decent person. Some poor sod that happened to exchange one council house for another and find themselves knee-deep in domestic disputes, late-night swearing, fighting and fornication.
Paul and Mary Saunders were two of these unfortunates. Not highly educated, but certainly not criminals. Chase and Ferrigno stood at the door and after casting a glance at each other, Chris knocked on the door.
Paul Saunders was in a right state. His hair was matted and it was clear he had been crying. He needed a shave and his twenty-eight year old face appeared forty-eight.
Ferrigno raised his open wallet. ‘Pol . . .’
‘I know. Come in.’
They followed him into the house. The living room was veiled in a semi-darkness, the curtains drawn, but a small gap afforded a shaft of light to pierce the cigarette smoke that lingered like a fog. Several mugs were on the floor and a large glass ashtray was brimming with cigarette ends. The room had not been decorated for some years and was stained with a yellowy tint of nicotine. Mary sat huddled in the corner of the room and did not look up to greet the two men. DS Chase took the lead as he adjusted himself into the seemingly spring-less chair.
‘Can I just say that, we are very sorry for the two of you, sorry for your loss. It’s unfortunate that we have to speak to you at such a time, but I’m afraid we simply have to. We’ll be as quick as we can.’
Chase was aware that there was a strong argument for him to just walk in and arrest both parents. He was not going to do that. The law does not always fit into the lives of real people. Sure the PM revealed suspicious circumstances but he needed to get a feel of the people he would be dealing with, to get an account first of all. There might be some innocent explanation, mightn’t there?
‘Can you tell me how you came to discover your child . . . erm, you know. . .’
‘Dead, you mean.’
Chase sighed. ‘Yeah.’
Mary was sobbing quietly into her handkerchief, her fingers twisting the cloth tightly, her eyes closed tightly and tears spilling from them. She was a very thin woman with bony knuckles and chipped nail varnish.
‘It was four in the morning or just after. I got up to go to the toilet and, as you do, I stuck my head round the door. I thought she was asleep, she may have been, but when we got up, she was . . . she was,’ His voice distorted into a cry as his emotions overwhelmed him. ‘Fucking dead. Dead. Fucking dead.’
Chase looked briefly at Ferrigno who widened his eyes. Mary spoke for the first time. ‘You know we’re glad, don’t you?’
‘They’re going to find out, for Christ’s sake, they’re not stupid, you know.’
Chase spoke quietly, his voice attempting to disguise the anticipation.
‘Find out what, Mrs Saunders?’
She began rocking backwards and forwards. ‘Our beautiful baby daughter, Sally, was ill. Well not ill, you see, we had just found out that she had a severe case of cerebral palsy, she would have had a life of hell, she would. . .’
Paul interrupted. ‘She was going to be a spastic. A spas. A fucking dudoo.’ He was visibly shaking and he took in a deep breath before continuing. ‘I’m sorry. What she means is, not that we are glad, well we . . . it’s just a blessing she’s gone, it’s for the best, that’s all.’
There was a pause, before chase commented. ‘I see.’
Ferrigno spoke for the first time. It was all too clear to him what had happened. ‘Look Mr Saunders I’m afraid we are going to have to. . .’
Chase cut him short.
‘When did you find out about this? You know, when did the hospital tell you?’
Paul answered. ‘They rang two days ago. They said the test had come through. That they were very sorry. All that crap. I couldn’t believe it, have they got the first idea what this was going to mean to us all? Did they give a shit? Did they fuck! Well I know I sound hard, but as I’ve said, it’s for the best, and that’s it. That’s all there is to it.’
Chase cupped both his hands and placed them over his mouth and nose, breathing through the spaces between his fingers, in a loud exaggerated fashion. He sighed.
‘Can you show me where the baby was sleeping?’
Paul stood up. The detectives did likewise. Chas motioned to Ferrigno to sit back down. ‘You stop here a minute, mate, will you?’
Ferrigno looked puzzled, but complied, still feeling ill-at-ease,, with the distraught mother who was now his sole companion.
The bedroom was small, but tidy. There was nothing much in it other than the cot in the centre of the room and a Moses basket propped against the wall, and some baby clothes piled neatly on top of a pine dressing table. It was undoubtedly the cleanest room in the house. A mobile was descending from the ceiling above the cot. Sheep and cows and clouds. Only the baby was missing. He peered into the cot. There was no sign of blood or other obvious signs of violence. No vomit. No indentation in the sheets. In fact the cot was bare, bereft of anything whatsoever. The scent of the baby was still in the air. Scenes of Crime would do there examination in the fullness of time.
Chase dwelt over the empty cot for some time, lost in his thoughts as Saunders stood behind him. Paul Saunders spoke first.
‘Difficult to know how to say it, isn’t it?’
‘Sorry, say what? What do you mean?’ Chase asked.
‘Look. I know you have to take me to the station. Can you keep Mary out of it? It’s nowt to do with her. She knows bugger all, my duck.’
Chase held his gaze at the cot. ‘Sorry, Paul, she’ll have to come as well.’
‘There’s no need, it’s. . .’
Chase spun round and raised the palm of his hand as if stopping traffic.
‘Shut up, Paul. Just keep your own council. We’re talking serious shit here. So let’s just get down to the nick and then take it from there, understand?’
He shrugged, but seemed confused. ‘Er, okay, fair enough.’
Chase organised the patrol car to collect them. He arranged for Ferrigno to take Mr and Mrs Saunders along with the constable to the station. He would drive the CID car back. It seemed a lot of messing around, when they could just drive them in the CID car. Ferrigno hadn’t seen Andy behave like this before. The DS knew what he was doing. He had to call somewhere on the way.
Andy Chase had arranged for a female DC to take the lead and interview Mrs Saunders. He had told her to try and get as detailed an account as possible to be able to use as a working contrast with whatever, if anything, Paul Saunders would have to say about the fateful night.
Paul Saunders leaned with both elbows on the table in front of him. His greasy hair and baggy blue T shirt had clearly adorned him since the tragedy occurred and there was a smell of body odour permeating the windowless interview room.
Andy had agreed that the young DC should take the lead with the questions with Chase jumping in with salient points. It would be good experience for him. He went through the preliminaries and gave Paul his rights. The solicitor, representing Paul, a Mr Ojo, was renowned for being a pain.
‘Can you tell us, Paul, and I appreciate this will be distressing, so take your time, in your own words exactly what happened last night.’
Paul looked at Mr Ojo.
Ferrigno tried to be understanding. ‘Take your time, there’s no rush. Just cast your mind back to last night and what you were doing, Paul.’ Saunders shuffled in his seat and said. ‘No comment.’
Ferrigno did his best not to appear too concerned by this stance. It was often the case.
‘Who put the baby to bed?’
‘Was it you, Paul, or your wife?’
‘Was anybody else at the house when the baby was put to bed, did you have any visitors?’
Saunders stared at the desk in front of him. ‘No comment, look, I don’t want to appear. . .’ His solicitor jumped in.
‘It’s all right, Paul, you do not have to say anything, the police have told you that themselves, when you were cautioned at the start of the interview.’
Ferrigno smiled benignly at the solicitor who mirrored his gaze. He continued. He would treat each no comment response as if Paul had given the answer, giving him time to form the image of the answer in his mind, even if he didn’t actually say it.
‘It was you who found the baby dead, wasn’t it, Paul?’
Ferrigno tried a different tack. ‘I’m sorry, Paul I keep saying “the baby”, what was her name again?’
‘Sal. . .’ Saunders began his reply at the same time as Mr Ojo commented. ‘DC Ferrigno, I am sure you have the child’s name in your file, so can I suggest that you refer to it.’
The solicitor was well versed in many of the tactics used by the police to get a client talking. He had been around long enough. Ferrigno continued, ignoring the solicitor.
‘Thank you, Paul, Sally. Yes, that’s it. A nice name.’ He shook his head. ‘This is all so terribly tragic, it really is. I want you to know Paul, that some of the questions we have to ask are necessary, but might not be too pleasant, I’m afraid. It’s just they have to be asked.’
Chase spoke for the first time. ‘You told me at the house, Paul, that you “looked in” on Sally. Can you explain to me exactly what that entailed?’
Saunders looked up at the Detective Sergeant. There was something about Chase that bothered him. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. In his haze of pressure and grief, it was Chase who was impacting on him.
‘I just put my head round the door, that’s all.’
‘Was she lying still?’
‘Yes, she. . .’
The solicitor wouldn’t let a second answer go by. ‘Sergeant, I’m not sure where this is leading.’
Chase took a cigarette packet out of his shirt pocket, and he pulled out a cigarette. He tapped it on the side of the pack and leaned back, averting his gaze from the cigarette to the balding solicitor.
‘I will tell you where it is leading. Your representation of your client, Mr Saunders, is verging on being obstructive and I must warn you Mr Ojo, that if it continues I shall have no other option but to have you removed and replaced with somebody else.’
The solicitor threw his pad on the desk.
‘Sergeant Chase, I have a duty to. . .’
Chase cut him short. ‘Look, let’s not pussyfoot around here. You have a duty to advise your client, sure, but I have a duty to put questions to him. You are preventing that process. We have told him he doesn’t have to say anything, he knows his rights, and so let’s get on with it shall we?’
Chase had nothing to lose, the guy wasn’t answering questions so he might as well let Ojo have both barrels; play him at his own game. The brief knew that if he was replaced, a letter would be sent to the Law Society and that could mean grief to him, particularly in such a sensitive case.
The solicitor tutted and began animatedly scribbling on his pad which he retrieved from the desk in front of him.
Chase continued talking to Saunders.
‘Paul, my colleague has pointed out that there are a few awkward questions we have to ask you. The sooner we do that, the sooner the interview will be concluded. So let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall we?’
Saunders nodded. ‘Can I have a cigarette?’
‘Sure.’ Chase reached for his packet but Ojo beat him to the draw and passed him a fresh packet.
Chase continued. ‘Paul did you want this baby?’
Solicitor; ‘You do not have to answer that question.’
‘Yes, I did want it, we both wanted it, that’s the truth.’
‘Okay. Had you been trying long?’
‘You do not have to answer that question.’
‘A while, six or seven months. I guess. We were pleased, you know, when we found out, Mary especially.’
Chase had by now totally blocked out the solicitor. ‘Was the marriage going well? You know sometimes, people think that having a baby can make things better.’
‘You do not have to answer that question.’
‘No the marriage was okay, we had the normal arguments like everybody else, but we were all right, she’s a good wife.’
‘Have you ever hit her, you know, Mary, ever given her a slap? A lot of men do.’
‘I advise you not to answer that question.’
Saunders shook his head. ‘No, never, I’m not like that. I don’t like falling out, arguments, all that sort of thing, it’s just not me.’
Chase blew a cloud of smoke into the air which mingled with the cloud from Saunders cigarette. ‘What about Mary, has she got a temper?’
‘You do not have to answer that question.’
‘Yes, a bit, but not with Sally, she loved her, she did, loved her to bits.’
Chase nodded his head. Time to go for the jugular.
‘Right, okay. Who killed the baby, Paul? You or Mary?’
‘I strongly advise you not to answer that question, Mr Saunders.’ Mr Ojo was staring at Paul with pleading eyes.
‘It wasn’t Mary. I think you know that don’t you?’
Chase offered a warm smile. ‘It doesn’t matter what I think, Paul, or what I know. So you killed her, then?’
‘Do not answer that question.’
Saunders flicked some ash into the metal bin at his side. There was no answer.
‘Nobody is judging you, Paul, to have the news that you were given, that Sally had severe cerebral palsy that must be horrendous.’
‘That’s true, you’ve no idea, what the. . .’
Chase interrupted. ‘Implications are? Maybe we do and maybe we don’t know, and now you’ll never know, will you, Paul? Because, you did it didn’t you?’
‘These are leading questions, Sergeant.’ Ojo was still at it.
Chase ignored the comment and continued.
‘Ever heard the expression, a crime of passion, Paul? Maybe it was the right thing to do, who can be the judge of that, unless they have lived through what you’ve had to.’
‘You do not have to answer that question.’
Saunders was staring into space. ‘Nobody can tell, nobody understands what the news meant to us.’
He was almost there. Chase followed up.
The solicitor sensed it. ‘I want another consultation with my client.’
Chase leaned back. He had no choice but to ask Paul. The law was clear. ‘Do you want a consultation with your solicitor, Paul?’
Saunders looked at his solicitor who nodded.
‘I think I better had. I’m sorry.’
Chase smiled. ‘I’ve heard enough. DC Ferrigno. Please stop the tape.’
It was twenty minutes before they resumed. Saunders had been schooled during the break. He was to answer no more questions.
And so the interview continued in a similar vein as the start, with Saunders giving ‘no comment’ answers. If he forgot or got drawn in, Mr Ojo would tut, or cough, to remind him and he would clam up.
The bright red digit on the tape machine counter displayed 32 minutes as DS Chase excused himself from the room.
Ferrigno, not for the first time that day, appeared puzzled by the actions of his DS. No sooner had he left the room, than he returned, clutching a small brown paper bag, bearing an exhibit label. Chase took over the interview, breaking the silence created by his dramatic entrance. ‘I have in this bag something that may be crucial to our investigation, and more importantly to you. Maybe you would have mentioned it, if your solicitor hadn’t kept shutting you up. Chris has explained to you about the bruising to baby Sally’s cheek, and questioned you as to how the bruising got there. Could this be the reason?’
He produced a baby’s rattle. It was turquoise in colour and had hard plastic serrated edges.
The solicitor touched Saunders’ arm to silence him.
Chase continued. His DC’s mouth wide open, agog.
‘I retrieved this from the cot when you took me upstairs this morning. Is it fair to say that this could have caused the bruising if the baby had inadvertently rolled on to it?’
Saunders stared at the DS. It began to dawn on him what was happening. A tear rolled down his cheek. ‘Yeah, thank you. Thanks . . . thanks a lot.’ He broke down crying into the crook of his elbow which he rested on the wooden table.
Ferrigno stood with his Detective Sergeant in the front room of Chase’s house. He was still thoroughly fed up with the day’s events and all the way over to Andy’s house he had said what a lucky bastard Saunders was, and how he still wasn’t happy with it. Chase had suggested that in the light of other evidence the Coroner would be forced to make a judgement of accidental death or perhaps an open verdict.
Ferrigno had never been to his DS’s house before. He felt a little awkward, despite the friendliness of Chase’s attractive wife, Laura, who fussed around them. She supplied them with drinks and a warm smile.
Chase spoke. ‘Where’s the little ‘un?’
‘He’s playing in the garden.’ She said.
‘We’ll come out in a minute.’
She smiled. ‘Oh, boys talk is it?’
‘Go on, bugger off and play with your son, before I give you a good thrashing.’
‘Promises, promises.’ He spanked her back-side as she walked out.
Ferrigno shook his head as he clutched his cold beer. ‘I can’t believe that you never mentioned the rattle to me. I mean what was the point of going through all that crap, when he had a way out? And what’s more you knew about it all along.’
‘Just because the rattle was in the cot, doesn’t mean that that was the cause, now does it? Anyway, you’ve got a lot to learn about life, yet, my old mucker.’ He grinned at Ferrigno. ‘There were never going to be any winners with this one, Chris. He’s got to live with the tragedy, and with himself, for the rest of his life. It’s another case for us tomorrow, someone else’s life to deal with.’
Ferrigno wiped some beer from his mouth, the result of an over-zealous swig of beer to vanquish the thirst that the hot summer’s day had created. ‘I suppose so, Andy. He was a bit of a toe-rag though wasn’t he? Saunders, I mean. It wouldn’t have been much of a loss to society if he’d been sent down, now would it?’
‘Don’t be so bloody judgemental, he was all right. No form for anything, the bloke was skint, in the mire, living in the middle of a shit hole, that’s all. It doesn’t make you a bad person.’
‘Wow. Ghandi, lives.’
Chase smiled and slapped his colleague’s shoulder. ‘Come on, let me put my flip-flops on and go and join Laura on the patio.’
It wasn’t like an ordinary wheel chair. More like a metal frame, with an elevated seat. The boy inside it looked around seven years old. His face was covered in phlegm and saliva and he thrashed around, grunting and jerking spasmodically. Only the straps over his shoulders and around his waist restrained him, and prevented him from tipping out onto the floor. The boy seemed to recognise his father as he bent to kiss his hair because the child urinated into his trousers. A smile flickered briefly across his face before a grimace of pain returned, defeating the second of joy.
Chase turned to Ferrigno who was rooted to the spot.
‘You’ve not met my son, have you?’
Chase spun the wheelchair around to face Chris. He stroked the boy’s head as he spoke to him. ‘Tony, this is Chris Ferrigno, ace detective, fine fellow, and all round good egg. However, he does still have a bit more of life to see before he makes the grade.’
Laura stretched over and wiped, Tony’s mouth with a handkerchief.
Ferrigno stood there, mouth agape, ashamed, embarrassed, and confused. He slowly began to realise what the last eight hours had been all about. He blurted out, ‘Hold on a minute . . . Jesus Christ . . . So the rattle. . .’ He stopped himself and took hold of Chase’s arm leading him to one side, now speaking in a whisper. ‘So the cot was empty all the time then? That’s why you wanted to go upstairs alone, why you came back to the nick on your own. You bought the rattle yourself didn’t you, Sarge? That is wrong, this is serious; you can’t do that sort of thing!’
Chase looked tired. He reached for a cigarette and took his time in lighting it. ‘So if you believe that, report me; but before you do, answer me this question. Do you believe all life is precious?’
‘Yes, of course it is.’
Chase blew out some smoke. ‘Come on then.’
‘Come on, let me tie you to the chair. Precious, my arse! Come on! Let me watch you piss yourself, shit yourself. Oh it’s so precious isn’t it? Let me watch your eyes pleading with me to ease the pain, to end it for you, even though you can’t tell me what you think. Come and let strangers stare at you, let them show compassion to you for a minute, for five minutes, for an hour, then watch them bugger off into the sunset shaking their heads. Come on, it’s precious, what are you waiting for?’
Ferrigno had fallen quiet. Chase’s wife came over and held her husband’s hand tightly. Tears were visible. ‘We’ve been feeling the strain lately; Andy, especially.’
‘Andy, I. . .’
‘It’s nothing to do with strain, Laura, Do you know what shame is, Chris?’
‘Well, yes, I . . . what do you mean?’
‘Let me explain something to you, Chris. Shame is holding a pillow over your own son’s mouth, wanting him to die, but not having the guts to see it through. Watching your own small child try so damned hard not to struggle; desperate to try to make it easier for me, but still I can’t do it. Still I fail him.’
Chris felt himself shaking his head. ‘Andy, I didn’t know. I’m sorry, mate.’
Andy took a deep breath. He knew he had said too much. ‘No, I’m sorry, pal. I shouldn’t say these things to you, you’re embarrassed, it’s wrong of me. Look forget it, let’s have a beer.’
They hadn’t reached the door before Andy spoke again. ‘And just to put your mind at rest, there was a rattle in that cot.’
‘You know what? Some things you have to take on face value, but if you say so that’s fine by me.’
‘There was a rattle all right. The fucking hinges were loose!’
I was aware that writing a story such as this could be controversial, as it contained certain taboos – cot death, disability, police integrity. My main concern was getting the issues around cerebral palsy right. I wanted to acknowledge that these things exist and as with my novels, I like to tell the truth as it happens, without pussy-footing around. This doesn’t suit everyone, but both reading and writing are subjective, so in my view, you have to write whatever you want to write about, and if the reader likes it, that is just the best thing! If not, who are you writing for? Eric, your neighbour? Winnie, in the post office?
What satisfied me the most about this story, was that after it was published, an extremely famous author, wrote me the loveliest letter, in which he shared the fact that he had a son with cerebral palsy, and that the story had moved him to tears. You can imagine how thrilled, and relieved, I was that I had captured the essence with someone who could actually relate to the scenario.