Extract 4 from Chapter Seven
‘I can’t believe they gave you fifty pints of blood, Bob . . . Fifty! There wouldn’t be any of your own blood left in you after that, then.’
Valentine scratched behind his ear, shuffled in his seat uncomfortably. He had spent so long reliving the trauma that it had taken concerted effort to shift the images from his mind – but here they were again.
‘What there was of my own blood ended up on the operating-room floor.’
The chief super tipped her head cockily to the side. ‘Must have been black pudding on the menu that night, eh?’
She began a laugh that mounted a full-scale assault on Valentine’s senses. He watched her meaty shoulders quaking under her already broad shoulder pads and something like pity for her lack of compassion entered his consciousness. He wanted to tell her that he had been stabbed in the heart, in the line of duty; it was not any source of amusement to him or his family. The pain of recall was nothing compared to the event, yet the prolonged agonies of its aftermath – the tears he had watched his wife and girls shed – were something he would never be greeting in even the remotest neighbourhood of laughter.
She continued to read from the notes: ‘Left ventricle stab wound from below, through diaphragm. Angiography on arrival at A&E, followed by thoracotomy . . . Oh my God, this is just horrific reading, Bob . . . Thick-walled ventricle contracted and closed the hole. . . . Heart-lung bypass for repair . . .’
She put down the notes and made an apse of her fingers. Had she somehow imagined that reading the medical notes embayed her with the honorific of doctor? The sudden shift in her sense of self-import suggested it. If she had been wearing glasses, thought Valentine, she would have removed them for effect.
‘And how are you now?’
It took all Valentine’s girded composure to resist firing a burst of mocking laughter in her face. The detective raised his open palms, weighed the air. His thoughts had been scattered like the contents of an upturned bin. ‘Right as rain.’
‘Come on, don’t play the bullshitter with me. You took a knife in the heart, on the job . . You officially died, at least twice from what I can make out.’
‘I’m here now.’
She picked up her cup of tea and sipped at it. The liquid vanished like rainwater in a gurgling gutter. The taste didn’t seem to agree with her; she replaced the cup on the desk.
‘I can see that. What I’m getting at is, how much of the old Bob have I got here in front of me?’
He cut in. ‘And how much was lost?’ He leaned forward, balancing the point of his index finger on the rim of her desk. ‘And how much of the old Bob was left on the operating table, is that what you’re getting at? None. Let me tell you that for once and for all. None. I am here in one piece and raring to go.’
The chief super ran her tongue over the front of her teeth. Thoughts were queuing behind her green eyes. Valentine read the thoughts as easily as if they had been displayed in a PowerPoint presentation. She was going by the book, making sure she had done her due diligence. If there had been any other option available to her then he would still be at Tulliallan teaching new recruits how to lace their shoes and she wouldn’t be worrying about the possibility of drafting in officers from another force to work her patch.
She rubbed at the bridge of her nose and slowly shook her head from side to side as she returned to the file in front of her. ‘It says here you had some psychotherapy.’
‘I was stabbed in the heart; they’re not going to let me back on the force without looking at my head.’
The chief super’s cheeks flushed; they looked like plumped cushions as she exhaled a long, distilled breath. ‘It might be an idea to keep the therapy up for your return to active duty.’
‘I don’t think it’s necessary.’
‘I didn’t ask if you thought it was, Bob . . . I’m telling you it’s coming and you’re going to jump at it with both hands if you want to handle this investigation.’
Valentine reclined in his chair. There was a reply on his lips, but he swallowed it.
‘Good,’ said the chief super. ‘We’ll see how you go with this. Any signs of stress, I want to know about it, do you hear me?’
She closed the folder, returned it to the inside drawer on her desk and flagged Valentine towards the door.
‘Get yourself into the incident room and brief your team.’
‘Most of them are at the post-mortem this morning, but I’ll need to brief the others . . . and the press office.’
She blinked her eyes towards the ceiling tiles. ‘Oh God, yes. I do not want to have the media jumping up and down about this today. Give them nothing . . . no, less than nothing.’
‘That’s all we have at present.’
Valentine reached out for the door handle, and as he grabbed it the chief super called out.
‘Oh, Bob, what did he get for the stabbing . . . ? Young Darren Hainey, wasn’t it . . .’
‘What do you think he got . . . ? A slap on the wrist with a feather.’
Artefacts of the Dead by Tony Black, £7.99 paperback, Black & White Publishing.