Authors: Gwen Kirkwood
As he drove to Highfold, Billy was thinking about these things and feeling happy that his friend would now be able to embark on the career he had dreamed of. Both Fenella and Liam were ready and waiting when he arrived and Mrs Lennox came to the door with them to admire his car and to congratulate him warmly on his exam results. He could see how proud and happy she was that Liam and Fenella had done so well.
‘I must congratulate you too, Billy. You’ll be Doctor Caraford, Minister of Agriculture, before we know where we are,’ she teased.
He grinned back at her.
‘There’s no fear of that. All I want is my degree in agriculture to keep the teachers and my parents satisfied,
then I intend to get on with farming and breeding even better cows than my father, and my Uncle Alex at Bengairney.’ He was smiling but deep down he knew this was his secret ambition. His father and grandfather and generations before them had been farmers and good stockmen so he considered himself a true son of the soil.
Most of their friends were already gathered at Gino’s when Billy parked carefully in an empty space on the side of the street a few yards away from the door. Inside the coffee bar everyone was in high spirits, even those who had not achieved the grades they had hoped for. Someone had already put the music on and Gino himself was smiling widely. He knew many of the youngsters by name and he welcomed their trade and their youthful spirits and optimism. He was a tolerant, jovial little man but he was quick to sense troublemakers and recently there had been one or two he had banned from his premises.
They had been in the coffee bar a couple of hours when Fenella and two of her friends moved to the table where Liam and Billy and their friends were making the most of the evening breeze from the open door. There were bench seats on either side and some of the boys made room for the girls to squeeze in beside them. Liam and Billy had unzipped their fleeces and laid them on the bench between them. The girls had their cardigans loosely draped around their shoulders as they sipped the long cool fruit drinks which Gino made with such flare. They were all laughing at a joke told by one of Liam’s pals when Fenella looked up at the sound of a familiar guffaw coming from the
pavement outside. Her brother Derek and some of his friends were walking around Billy’s car, trying the doors, peering inside, pulling the windscreen wipers and pinging them back. She tensed.
‘Here comes trouble,’ she said in a low voice, stretching one leg beneath the table to give Liam a gentle kick and get his attention. ‘Derek and a couple of his friends are coming in.’
‘They can’t. Gino has banned them.’
‘They’re behind you,’ she mouthed silently.
‘Billy, I think we should leave,’ Liam muttered, getting to his feet. ‘Derek has been in a foul mood and spoiling for trouble all day.’
‘OK, suits me. We’ve a busy day’s harvesting tomorrow anyway so I promised we wouldn’t be too late home.’ Billy stretched backwards to get the car key from the front pocket of his slim-fitting jeans.
‘Hey, brainbox! Watch where you’re putting that big head o’ yours,’ a voice growled as Billy hooked the key with his forefinger and drew it out.
‘Sorry. Didn’t know you were standing behind me, Derek,’ Billy said amiably, as he tried to get to his feet in the narrow space. Quick as lightning, Derek snatched the car key while Billy was balanced on one leg, extricating himself from the bench seat.
‘Hey, give me my key!’ he yelled but Derek was already running out to the car, clicking to unlock the door. Liam was suddenly standing, anxious to leave without a quarrel. He ran after Derek, with Billy in hot pursuit.
Fenella stood up, intending to leave with the boys. She ran round the table but by the time she reached the door of the coffee bar Derek was already in the
driver’s seat of Billy’s car, revving up the engine. Liam jumped into the passenger seat, trying to reason with his brother but Derek lashed out with his fist, knocking his head against the window. Billy paused for an instant, staring in anger and dismay, then he ran forward, just in time to jump into the back seat before Derek shot into the line of traffic and zoomed down the main street amidst a blare of horns from angry drivers travelling in both directions. Fenella clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a scream as she and her friend, Amanda, watched from the door of Gino’s.
‘Don’t worry, Fen. They’ll not go far. Billy will be back for you in no time. He and Liam have both left their jackets behind.’
‘So they have. I’d better get them,’ Fenella said, still staring after the car. ‘I’ll bet they’ve left their phones in them. I’ll—’ She gasped aloud when the car shot through the traffic lights at red further down the street, then swerved to the right across the line of oncoming traffic. Her stomach lurched. ‘Derek is driving like a maniac. He has no licence and he’s heading out of town.’
‘He and his pals have been drinking again. You could smell it as soon as they came in,’ Amanda said in a low voice, her own concern increasing. She had a teenage crush on Liam. ‘I didn’t think he’d really drive away.’
Back at Martinwold, Rosemary did her best to answer Sergeant Gregory’s questions.
‘Y–yes, I think that is the correct registration. It’s a silver Vauxhall Astra. W–we only collected it from the garage this morning.’ Please God don’t let anything have happened to Billy, she prayed silently, staring wide-eyed at the police sergeant. She thought she saw sympathy on his lined face and her stomach muscles clenched. She clutched the edge of the door for support.
‘May we come in, Mrs Caraford?’ PC Hazel Jacobs asked gently, stepping forward and taking her arm.
‘Y–yes, yes, of course.’
‘Is there anyone else here? Staying in the house with you?’ Sergeant Gregory asked.
‘My husband is here. H–he has just gone up to bed. It will be another busy day at the harvest tomorrow.’ She was beginning to shiver.
‘I suggest you ask him to join us, if you don’t mind, Mrs Caraford?’ Sergeant Gregory’s voice was kind but
Rosemary knew it was more of a command than a request.
‘Is Billy in some sort of trouble? Was he talking on his mobile? Surely he wasn’t speeding? I know he would never drink and drive so it can’t be that. He hardly drinks alcohol at all, thank goodness. What—’
‘We shall try to answer your questions, Mrs Caraford, if you will ask your husband to join us. Please?’ Sergeant Gregory interrupted, knowing it was probably nerves and apprehension making her chatter.
‘Y–yes. Of course. Will you go through to the room?’ Rosemary waved a hand towards a half-open door. Although she was almost fifty her hair was still blonde and as curly as it had always been. She shook it now like a confused child trying, and failing, to understand her lessons. ‘Take a seat. I’ll tell Sam to get dressed and come downstairs again.’
She went towards the staircase but Sam was already standing at the top, naked beneath the dressing gown he had pulled on.
‘I thought I heard voices.’
‘It–it’s the police. They want to speak to both of us. Can you come down, Sam?’ Her voice shook in spite of her resolve to stay calm.
‘The police? What can they want at this time of night?’ Then immediately, ‘Is it Billy? Has he had an accident?’
‘I–I don’t know. Oh, Sam.’ Her voice shook. ‘Will you c–come down?’ She sank onto the third stair up, knowing her legs wouldn’t carry her any further right now. She clasped her head in her hands.
‘I’ll be with you in a second, sweetheart. Don’t worry, Rosie. Billy is a good driver and we both know
he’s sensible or we’d never have bought him a car. I expect it’s something minor.’
‘Y–yes,’ Rosemary whispered without conviction. No one was perfect. Billy was a teenager. How could they be sure he wouldn’t test his wings like any fledgling?
While Sergeant Gregory and his colleague waited for Mrs Caraford to return to the room with her husband, he mentally reviewed the few facts they had gleaned so far. The car registration had provided the name of the owner of the car. The insurance confirmed the information was current and he was the only person insured to drive. That was not incontrovertible proof he was driving at the time of the accident though. That was something Sergeant Gregory would prefer to establish beyond doubt and it was not so simple when all three occupants had been thrown out of the car. Unfortunately there were few other clues relating to their identities. According to the report they had received from the scene of the accident, two of the young men in jeans and white polo shirts had no identification at all, no money, wallets or mobile phones. The third occupant had been wearing jeans and a grey sweatshirt with a hood and front pockets. The report was that he reeked of alcohol, but apart from a £2 coin, and a small sachet containing white powder in the pocket of his jeans, there was nothing to provide his identity.
The young constable at the scene had assumed the powder was some kind of drugs but Sergeant Gregory was too experienced to assume anything without proof. Forensics would tell them what they needed to know about substances, and the results of any blood
tests which might have been taken.
‘Our first priority is to be absolutely certain of the identities of these young men,’ he said to Constable Jacobs, ‘before we inform their families. The situation is too serious to risk jumping to conclusions.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Constable Jacobs agreed in a troubled voice. Sergeant Gregory had less than a year before he retired from the police force and at times like this he wished he was already finished, but he had no intention of making assumptions which could cause even more anguish to the families of the three young men. There would be plenty of that before the night was out, he thought grimly. He had always prided himself on being thorough, even if a few of his colleagues did consider him too strict.
He stood up as Sam and Rosemary Caraford entered the room together. The man had his arm around his wife’s shoulders but his own face was tense and pale. The day had been hot and he looked exhausted after his day’s labours.
‘There has been a serious road accident involving the car which we now know is registered in your son’s name,’ he began and held up a hand when Sam would have questioned him. ‘The car was heading north out of town but at this stage we are making enquiries to find out whether the vehicle could have been stolen, who was driving it and who the other two passengers were. Can you tell me where your son was going and whether he was likely to have any passengers?’
‘He was collecting his friend, Liam Lennox, from Highfold Farm, and his sister, Fenella, but that was more than two hours ago. They were only going into town, to Gino’s Coffee Bar, to celebrate passing their
exams with their friends,’ Sam said.
‘A sister? One of them was a girl? How old would she be?’
‘Fenella was sixteen last month,’ Rosemary said.
‘I see.’ Sergeant Gregory frowned then looked across at Constable Jacobs. ‘Contact the station, please. Better do it from the car.’ He flicked a glance in the direction of the Carafords but Hazel Jacobs was sensitive enough to realize it was better if they didn’t overhear, though it was looking more and more as though the Caraford boy was one of the three involved. ‘Ask if they have any more details of the occupants and make sure there was not a girl with them.’
The couple who reported the accident had said the driver had been waving his arm out of the window while the car was travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road. It had swerved back to its own side and hit a tree full on, tearing away the front wing and side of the car. They thought that was when the first young man had been thrown out and killed. He was lying on that side of the road. The car had slewed back across the road and the couple thought it had rolled at least twice. One of the bodies had been several yards away. The one with the severed leg had been quite near the car, unconscious but still alive. Sergeant Gregory knew everyone at the scene would have concentrated on trying to save his life and get him to hospital, but he was fairly certain they would have made a thorough search for any other occupants. It was unlikely the body of a young girl would be overlooked unless she had been thrown some distance.
‘If they were driving out of town they would be on
their way home,’ Sam said, ‘but you infer they were heading in the opposite direction?’
‘As I said we are still making enquiries at this stage but your wife has confirmed the car is owned by your son, William Alexander Caraford, and we know it was being driven north on a straight stretch of the old motorway. The couple who phoned in to report the accident had taken the same route out of town but they had halted at the traffic lights so their car was some distance behind by the time it joined the same road heading north.’ He didn’t add that the Astra had driven through the lights at red and almost caused an accident with the oncoming traffic before it had even left the town.
‘I see,’ Sam said tightly. ‘I can’t think of any reason why Billy would be on that road.’
‘Can you tell me what your son was wearing? Would he have any form of identification? A mobile phone perhaps?’
‘He–he was wearing his jeans and a navy zip-up fleece. It has an inside zip pocket where he keeps his phone and his wallet. He always carried his school identity card and bus pass in his wallet. Liam had one almost identical. He was probably wearing his. They seem to be their favourite clothes at present.’
‘Do they have hoods?’
‘Do you know what he was wearing under the jacket?’
‘Yes, he was wearing his white polo shirt.’ They all looked up as PC Hazel Jacobs returned to say there was no sign of a girl. She looked at the Carafords with compassion.
‘The DVLA and our men at the scene are able to confirm from the photo licence that one of the young men at the scene is William Caraford, but they are unable to say whether he was driving.’
‘Of course Billy would be driving. He’s the only one insured to drive that car. He wouldn’t risk letting anyone else drive it,’ Sam said heatedly. ‘Where is he? Is he hurt? We must see him.’ Rosemary put a calming hand on his arm but her own face was chalky white now.
‘Is he…? Has he…? Sam’s right. We have to know. We need to see him. You must tell us what you know.’
‘I understand how you both feel,’ Sergeant Gregory said quietly. He looked up at his colleague and saw the distress in her eyes but she nodded her
. ‘The truth is two of the young men are dead. The third is seriously injured in hospital and we have been unable to identify them. We are anxious not to make any mistakes with wrong identities and cause grief unintentionally.’
‘I can understand that,’ Sam said, his voice gritty with emotion, ‘but this young woman has just confirmed that our son is involved. We have to know whether he is dead or alive. We need to see for ourselves,’ he added desperately.
‘You are both badly shaken,’ Police Constable Jacobs said gently. ‘We can take you to the hospital but you might prefer a member of your own family to drive you? Will you allow me to telephone your daughter, Rena?’
‘You know Rena?’ Rosemary asked, startled.
‘I was at school with your twin daughters, Carol and Rena. May I telephone Rena and explain?’
‘Y–yes please. Please do, but tell her to hurry.’
Both Rosemary and Sam knew they would never forget that night for as long as they lived. Billy was alive but severely injured and on the danger list. The doctors allowed them to see him but only briefly. They sensed even this concession was to confirm his identity and provide any medical details which might help them. They didn’t want to leave his bedside but a kindly doctor drew them aside and explained it was vital to allow the nurses and doctors to proceed unhampered. His leg had been severed below the knee. While this had been serious in that it had resulted in considerable loss of blood, their main concern was his head injury. The doctor promised he would send for them if his condition changed. Meanwhile he strongly advised them to go home and rest.
‘The doctor is right, Mum,’ Rena said gently. She had driven them to the hospital. ‘You both look exhausted and Dad will still want to make sure his animals aren’t neglected.’
‘That’s true,’ Rosemary agreed reluctantly. ‘The cows will need to be brought in and milked. It’s morning already. And you have your two little ones to look after and get ready for school, Rena.’ She gave a huge sigh which ended in a choked little sob. ‘Life has to go on for those of us who are left. If Billy is responsible for the death of his best friend.…’ She shuddered, unable to continue.
They were able to identify Liam and his stepbrother, Derek. Rosemary’s heart ached with sorrow when she looked down on Liam’s young face. None of them had been wearing seatbelts and his neck was broken. Derek had been scarcely recognizable. They couldn’t
understand why he had been with them, or why they had been travelling in the opposite direction to their homes. There were so many questions and no one able to answer them.
‘I’ll come back later,’ Rena said as she dropped her parents back at Martinwold.
‘You have your own responsibilities, Rena dear, with the garden centre to run and your children to get to school and nursery,’ Rosemary said wearily. ‘We’re very grateful that you came with us.’
‘I want to come back, Mum. I can’t bear to think of our Billy with all those tubes attached and bandages round his head.’ She shivered. ‘I’ll phone Australia and tell Carol what’s happened. She’ll want to know even though she is too far away to help. And Dad….’ She hesitated. ‘Do you mind if I phone Bengairney and tell Uncle Alex what has happened? I know things have been strained ever since you bought his share in Martinwold, but he thought the world of Billy, and he is your brother. You used to be so close. He will hear from other people.’
‘Aye, you’re right, lassie,’ Sam sighed. ‘Alex will be upset. Phone him later then.’
‘I’ll wait until breakfast time. Now you two must try and rest as the doctor advised.’
‘I couldn’t possibly rest,’ Sam said when Rena had driven away. ‘I have too many questions going round in my head, and too much grief in my heart to be able to sleep. The cows won’t be ready to come in for milking for another hour or more but I think I’ll bring them in anyway and get started. The milking has to be done and the hospital might send for us to go back. I need to keep busy.’
‘Yes.’ Rosemary looked up at him, her blue eyes dark with worry and fatigue. ‘I’ll come with you to round up the cows but first I’ll switch on the kettle for a cup of coffee. Will you transfer the telephone through to my mobile so we don’t miss any calls?’
‘Good idea. I would appreciate your company, Rosie. I don’t want to leave you alone, or to be alone myself.’ Sam drew her close and buried his face against the soft warmth of her neck. They stood silently together for several minutes, each drawing comfort from the other.
‘Sergeant Gregory and that nice young woman promised to let us know if they managed to find out any more details after they had broken the news to Jane and Syd Lennox.’ She shuddered again. ‘I don’t know how I am going to face them.’
‘I know, Rosie,’ Sam said gruffly, his arms tightening around her. ‘I can’t believe Billy was responsible for such carnage, but if he was he–he’ll wish he had d–died with them.’