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Saturday 18 November 2017...09:52 am
©created and copyright Pam Charles ©
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- 1 -

Just past the Halifax junction on the M62, Mark Smith noticed a car tailing him. It had been there for about three miles. After recent events, he changed lanes a few times, the car followed. Annie sensed his anxiety and watched him cautiously looking through his mirror. Suddenly the car overtook them and lingered at their side. Mark looked across to see the driver but the tinted windows prevented any identification. He slowed down, the car slowed down. The cat and mouse antics went on for a couple of miles.

"Annie! Ed! Keep your wits about you. Annie ring Harry and let him know. When I slow down see if one of you can get the registration number," Mark instructed.

Annie's heart was pounding but she was more concerned she had one of her precious boys with them. Ed wasn't at all fazed. He was watching Mark intensely. Mark braked suddenly and the car skidded to the left. It was enough for Ed to take a note of the registration number. However, the car slowed down and pulled in front of them. Mark was forced to brake hard to avoid a collision.

Annie Swift's life flashed before her eyes. She'd not had an easy life; her first marriage was violent and the only good thing to come out of it all was her eldest son, Matt. Oh God! Matt she thought. He was on the verge of re-signing a contract to play Rugby League for his home town, the club she had supported as a child with her grandpa. She didn't want her life to end now! Her mum and dad needed her, her boys needed her and most of all she'd finally met someone she could grow old with, who loved her unconditionally and made her happy at last. Life had been cruel but it was worth the heartache to have such beautiful boys and now a new partner. She had come through so much and was finally in a good place in her life. It was inconceivable it could end now.

"Shit!" Mark shouted as he swerved out to the middle lane. As he tried to overtake the car, it too increased its speed. Then, without warning the pursuer swerved into the middle lane, again Mark's defensive driving avoided contact but this was getting really scary. Annie was shouting down the phone to DCI Harry Fisher.

Ed turned to Mark. "Mark keep calm you are doing great. I think we should try and get off the motorway at the next exit."

Annie interrupted, "Harry suggested that too. I am going to put the phone on loudspeaker so we can tell him what's happening."

Just as she said this, Mark managed to manoeuvre past the car. He was an ex professional rugby player, not a racing driver' He put his foot down and was doing ninety-five mph when the car came right up behind him. There was no getting away from it. Mark was shaking but was trying his best to get them out of trouble.

"The next junction, junction twenty-four, is coming up. I'm going to let him pass us and then slip off the motorway."

DCI Fisher's voice bellowed, "Mark, listen to me, do not do anything stupid! Stay within the law, we will be there shortly. The motorway police are three minutes away and the helicopter five. Stay calm but do not, I repeat do not speed."

Mark realised it was stupid trying to outrun the car. The shaking subsided a little as he reduced his speed to seventy. The car overtook him again but this time re-joined his lane and slammed on again in front of him. Annie and Ed screamed and Annie lifted her hands to her face. Mark swerved again and braked but it was not enough. The passenger side front wing clipped the rear of the car in front. It spun the BMW out of control and into the central reservation. The airbags activated.

For what seemed an eternity the three of them said nothing. Annie could hear the faint sirens of the emergency vehicles. The searing pain from her leg was unbearable.

"Mum!, Mum you okay?" She recognised Ed's voice.

She tried to speak but the words wouldn't come out. She nodded but wasn't sure if her head actually moved. The pain was taking over, it was so, so intense. She could hear Ed and Mark's voice and a strange distant voice calling her name, she recognised it was Harry but couldn't understand why he was there. She passed out.

Ed and Mark walked out of the mangled mess and sat in an ambulance close by. Both shocked, Ed had a small cut on his left cheek and on his hand where a splinter of glass had hit him. It seemed a very strange situation to him. He was sitting calmly in an ambulance whilst the scene outside was pandemonium. None of it seemed real. It resembled a scene from a Bruce Willis blockbuster.

Panicking Ed stood up, hitting his head on the roof of the ambulance and shouted, "MUM, Mum I have to get to her." Mark grabbed his arm and beckoned him to sit down.

"Ed we can't do anything, leave it to the professionals mate. They know what they are doing." Mark was trying to stay calm for Ed's sake but inside he was erupting like a volcano. He wanted to hold her; please God please let her be all right, he thought, tears welling in his eyes.

Ed held his arm. They stayed together watching the carnage. The cutting equipment grinded on the car's frame and made them both cringe. They watched intently as Annie was released from the vehicle. She was now talking and semi-coherent. Mark and Ed came out of the ambulance to greet her on the stretcher. She had a drip in her arm, and blood all down her face from a gash on the bridge of her nose, she whispered, "I'm fine," to both Mark and Ed who now had tears rolling down their faces. The paramedic told them she had a suspected broken leg, concussion and bruising from the airbag but they weren't listening. As they lifted her into the ambulance, a familiar face emerged from the flashing lights.

"Mark, she is going to be okay," Harry said. "The same can't be said for your car. I will come to the hospital shortly and see you all. Take care of each other."

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary was not a place any of them liked, especially Annie as the last time she visited was to say goodbye to her beloved grandpa. The buildings were old and resembled blocks of flats built in the 1960s. Inside the paint was peeling from the walls in spite of recent refurbishment.

Mark was impatient with the nurse and considered any time spent on him was wasted. He had a couple of bruises on his face and sore ribs. All he wanted to do was be with Annie.

Ed was pretty much the same, but he found amusement in telling the nurses he was a professional rugby player and enjoyed their fussing over him. They told him the cuts were superficial and he laughed that they wouldn't spoil his good looks.

Finally Mark and Ed were free to see Annie. She was being treated in the next cubicle but the doctor was with her when they arrived. They paced up and down until he emerged from behind the curtain.

"Mrs Swift has concussion and a broken leg," the doctor declared. Ed thought, tell me something we don't know but he didn't say it. The doctor continued, "We are going to send her for a CT scan and an X-ray. She will be staying with us this evening and we may need to operate on her leg depending upon the extent of the damage. You can see her now if you like."

If we like, Mark thought as they raced like school children behind the curtain. Annie smiled back at them but her facial injuries made them both stop in their tracks. Ed hugged his mum; he wanted to hug her tightly but was afraid of adding to her pain. Mark stood back and let mother and son have some time together. Ed was sobbing into his mum's chest.

"Ed it's okay, I, we are all fine. We will sort this. Come on baby you will be okay, it's just a shock."

Ed lifted his head up and wiped his face on his sleeve. "But Mum I don't know what we would do if we lost you. You are everything to me and Matt and if we'd have lost you." He laid back onto her chest. Annie looked at Mark- tears were running down his cheeks too.

Annie soothingly rubbed her son's head and gestured for Mark to come towards her. With her other hand she held Mark's hand too.

"You're a right pair you two aren't you, I'm the one laid here waiting in this crappy place for people to prod and poke me and you two go to pieces. I will be fine, you will just have to run round after me for a bit that's all."

Mark squeezed her hand, which made her grimace. She was concealing the fact that her whole body hurt from her head to the tips of her toes.

Ed composed himself. "I'll do anything, Mum, anything. I am coming home from London after this season, I want to be near you, Matt and Mark." She hugged him and suggested he went to call Matt. As Ed walked out of the cubicle, Annie stroked Mark's hand and said, "Look at me Mark. You haven't looked me in the face since you came in." It was true Mark had not looked at her; he was ashamed that he had not protected her. He wished it were him lying there instead of her.

Mark's eyes welled as he spoke. "I am so so so sorry Annie. This is all my fault. I am bad news and look at my beautiful, beautiful angel lying here."

Annie was firm. "Mark, listen to me. This is not your doing. This is mad, nothing you have brought on. We need to get it sorted; this is more sinister than we thought. I am scared someone could get killed, we could have got killed but it's not your fault. In fact I believe you saved our lives. Your driving was great Mark, great."

Just as she finished, Harry walked in. The shock on his face was self-explanatory as Mark and Ed had had the same look when they first saw Annie.

Harry cleared his throat. "I need statements from you but not tonight. The car you hit was abandoned by the time we got there." The disappointment was clearly visible on his face.

He continued, "We are going to leave a policeman here with you tonight Annie. What are you intending on doing?" he said turning to Mark.

Without hesitation Mark confirmed, "Ed and I will be staying here. We have already discussed it and we are not leaving without Annie."

"I have sent a car for Matt to come here too." He paused. "This is now an attempted murder case."

Annie and Mark looked at each other. This was no longer just a few notes and strange happenings. This had taken a turn for the worse, much worse.

"I will be back in the morning for your statements. Look after each other." Harry smiled and left.

It seemed hours until the doctor re-emerged even though it had only been half an hour. "Right Mrs Swift, I am sending you down for your CT scan now."

"Can I go with her please?" Mark asked.

Shaking his head the doctor said, "I'm afraid not, you can go with her for the X-ray but not the scan. I'll show you to the relatives' room and you can come back to see Mrs Swift when she returns."

"Annie, please call me Annie," Annie interrupted.

The doctor raised a faint smirk and continued, "You can come back to sit with Annie when she returns."

The curtain burst open and Matt, Annie's eldest son, ran through throwing himself at his mum. They hugged and both cried.

Annie reassured her son, "I am fine Matt honestly."

Matt got up and moved towards Mark. "My God Mark, you okay too?" He hugged him tightly. It was an adoring hug, which took Mark completely by surprise. He felt sure he would come in and smack him in the mouth; after all it was because of him they were in there.

Annie was wheeled out for the CT scan. The boys moved into the relatives' room, adjoining the ward. It was going to be a very long night. Matt and Ed went to find some refreshments and left Mark on his own.

Mark sat staring at the pale blue wall. The room was bright but cool but had a sense of grief in its walls. What had just happened tonight? He remembered the car but just couldn't remember how they had come to rest in the central reservation. He shut his eyes but could only see the flashing blue lights and Annie; oh Annie's blood-soaked face. He cupped his hands around his face and wept uncontrollably. He heard the door open but didn't care. His baby was hurt and his past had caused all this. He shouldn't have tracked her down.

"Mark." He heard a voice and looked up. "Mark, where is she?" Andrea, Annie's mum wept.

"They have taken her for a CT scan," he said wiping his eyes.

Annie's father, Charles sat down at the side of him and Andrea at the other side. Andrea held Mark's hand. "The police have told us what happened, you are all safe now thank God." She squeezed his hand.

Mark looked up at her and at Charles. They had both been crying. What had he done? These beautiful people adored Annie and he had caused all this pain. He started crying again. Andrea just held him. Matt and Ed returned with the drinks.

Matt, shocked at Mark's state said, "What's happened, what?"

Andrea replied, "Nothing more love, your mum is okay."

Ed stood behind Mark and laid his hands on his shoulders. "Come on mate, we can all work this out together."

Over the next few hours, Mark and Ed filled Matt, Andrea and Charles in with the whole story. Mark was convinced they would hate him but to his surprise they did not. On the contrary they wanted to help, not just Annie but him too. He loved this family they were so supportive and positive. It's a shame his family had not been the same.

The doctor interrupted the discussion. "Annie's CT scan is clear. If you want to see her you can. She will be going for the X-ray shortly. If you could keep the noise down and say two to the bed at a time." They all nodded.

They agreed Andrea and Charles would go first. Mark was going to accompany Annie to the X-ray and Ed and Matt would go and see her when Grannie and Gramps had finished. Andrea and Charles fussed over Annie and made her feel exhausted. When they returned to the relatives' room, Matt and Ed ran in to see their mum. She looked a lot better with her clean face. The nurse came in once or twice to calm the laughter down until it was time for Annie's X-ray.

The porter wheeled her down to the department with Mark tagging along, not letting go of Annie's hand once. It was confirmed that Annie had broken her left leg but thankfully didn't need surgery. By 3 a.m. she had her plaster cast on. Mark slept in the chair beside her bed and the boys and grandparents occupied the relatives' room.

***

Next chapter...