As soon as the new beds were delivered, Anna and Carrie embarked on a grand clean-up and furniture rearrangement. Sam left them to it as much as possible; when he was not a work, he tended to retreat to his workshop at the bottom of the garden unless required for furniture humping duties.
He was there late one Friday afternoon lovingly oiling the wood of Anna’s surprise wedding present, when she called from the back door.
“Sam. Can you come in a minute?”
“On my way lovey.”
He washed his hands at the tiny sink and brushed the sawdust off his trousers before cantering up the path with Bonnie at his heels. When he got into the kitchen, he found Sandra Wang sitting at the table with a bone-white face. She was clutching a large glass of wine and her teeth chattered on the rim as she took a drink. Anna sat opposite her, looking concerned. Sam sat down beside Sandra and possessed himself of the hand not holding a glass.
“What’s the matter, love? What’s got you so upset and shaky?”
She tried a smile.
“Oh Sam,” she said in a very small voice “I’ve been working in the private wing at Cheltenham for the past couple of weeks, but there’s something very wrong there. First we had a computer virus, and some men from a specialist company had to be called out to fix it. They finished this morning. Then some policemen arrived. They shut down the wing until further notice, confiscated a lot of computer equipment, and arrested half a dozen people. They questioned the rest of us and let us go. One of the policemen told me not to worry, as I hadn’t been in the job long enough to be under suspicion. He also advised me not to go back there and not to be in contact with any of the staff in the NHS bit of the hospital, which I told him would be a bit difficult. When I explained why, he said Ez was in the clear, but there might be some senior doctors in it up to their eyebrows. I dunno if he meant you, but I had to come and see you. I’m sure you had nothing to do with whatever is wrong, so I had to come and warn you.”
“It’s OK. There’s no trouble for me.”
“Thank goodness for that. I didn’t want to think you could be rotten. You’ve been kind and friendly to us.”
“It’s OK, Sandra. I knew there was trouble in the air, but I never dreamed you would be working in the private wing. I thought you were a GP.”
“I am, but between practices at the moment. So I signed on with an agency and they put me in the private wing doing ward rounds.”
“Oh. Right. Well. I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.”
“Don’t be. I’d have given the game away very quickly. Can you tell me what was going on?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Then it’s not just a case of financial irregularity?”
“The police seemed quite cross that the consortium rep wasn’t around. I’m guessing she was up to her neck in whatever was going on.”
“I imagine so, but don’t worry about it.”
“If you say not,” Sandra sounded a bit happier.
Anna smiled at her.
“You look better. More colour in your cheeks.”
“I feel better, but would you mind if I stay here till Ez gets home? Mama and Poh are away for a few days and I don’t quite feel up to being on my own.”
Sam and Anna shared a look.
“Course you can stay, silly,” Anna said bracingly. “What time is Esmond due home?”
Sandra looked at her watch.
“In about an hour if he’s on time, which he probably won’t be.”
“Can you call him?”
“I can leave a message at least.”
“Well, give him a bell and invite him here for some supper.”
“Oh that’s kind, but isn’t it an imposition?”
“No. I wouldn’t have offered if it was.”
Sandra picked up a handbag the size of a compact car and rooted busily in its entrails, finally emerging with her phone. She managed a wobbly smile.
“Yeah. I know it’s huge, but I always think I’m going to need many things at all times.” She keyed in a number and listened. “Ez. I’m at Sam and Anna’s place. We’re invited to supper. Call me and let me know if you are running late.” She ended the call. “Voicemail. But he’s very good at checking it between patients.”
As she finished speaking her phone rang.
“Ah. Here he is.”
“Hi love. No. I’m okay now.”
“Yeah. It was scary but Sam and Anna are being kind.”
“You want a word with Sam?”
She passed the phone over.
“Yes. That’s about the size of it. No. I’m not worried now. No problem. See you.”
He handed the phone back to Sandra, who listened for a minute before hanging up.
“He’s on his way. He has heard about what went on today. He worried for me. What’d he say to you, Sam?”
“Just that he knew I wasn’t involved. And he wanted to thank us for taking care of you.”
“That wasn’t a problem was it love?” Anna smiled. “Do you two eat curry?”
“Do we ever.”
“Well then, you sit and chat to Sam while I see what I can rustle up.”
“Can’t I help?”
“No. Sit. Talk to Sam and drink your wine.”
Anna chopped and prepared while Sandra and Sam chatted lightly. She noticed the strain slowly draining out of Sandra’s voice, and smiled inwardly. Keeping an ear cocked, she heard a car draw to a halt outside. Sam obviously heard it too because he got up quickly.
“I’ll go open the gate.”
He slipped out.
By the time Sam got outside Esmond was just about to get out of his car. Sam motioned him to stay in his seat, and opened the gate. Once the Jaguar slid in he closed the gate behind it. Esmond jumped out and grasped Sam’s shoulders.
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“I’ve got a friend who works at the GMC. He called me this afternoon. Said that the police had notified them that the private wing was closed as of right then. He even hinted at what has been going on. Said three senior doctors had already been charged. Apparently you and me are in the clear, but a lot of the other senior men are under suspicion. Some have even been suspended from the register.”
“Well I’m glad you know I’m straight. But. Your friend shouldn’t be telling people stuff.”
“He knows that: normally wild horses. It’s only because of Sandie.”
“I guess I can understand that. But I’m also guessing that whatever exactly is going on it involves some very nasty people. So I’m keeping my head down. I have Anna to think about. And someone who talked to me said that this makes Harold Shipman look like a fucking philanthropist.”
“Yeah. I got that. Does Sandie know what was going on?”
“No. And if I was you I wouldn’t tell her. At least not yet. She was badly frightened by what happened this morning. Just come and have some supper and a glass of wine. You can always leave the car here and walk home.”
“Thanks Sam. I might just do that.”
And that, Sam thought, was all he would hear about the rotten goings-on in the private health care sector. Which proves how wrong a human being can be.