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Authors: Catherine Aird

Tags: #Mystery

Chapter and Hearse

 

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

A Change of Heart

Due Diligence

Time, Gentlemen, Please

Cold Comfort

Chapter and Hearse

The Widow's Might

Handsel Monday

Preyed in Aid

A Different Cast of Mind

Examination Results

Child's Play

Like to Die

Dead Letters

Gold, Frankincense and Murder

The Trouble and Strife

Losing the Plot

A Soldier of the Queen

Touch Not the Cat

Exit Strategy

The Wild Card

Coup de Grâce

Dummy Run

By the same author

Copyright

 

Dedicated to
Peter Lucas
of happy memory

A Change of Heart

‘There's a girl downstairs, sir,' reported Detective Constable Crosby, ‘who is saying that the hospital's killed her granny.'

‘They've been killing grannies over there for years,' responded Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan drily. ‘Par for the course, if you ask me.'

‘No, no, sir, it isn't like that at all.'

‘You mean granny wasn't one of Dangerous Dan's patients?' said Sloan.

The worryingly high casualty figures for Mr Daniel McGrew's surgical operations at the Berebury and District General Hospital were a byword throughout the county of Calleshire, but not a police matter. So far, that is.

‘No, sir. One of Dr Edwin Beaumont's.'

‘Ah, that's different.' Sloan frowned. ‘He's one of the physicians, isn't he?'

‘One of their top ones…' began Crosby.

‘I'd always heard,' mused Sloan, ‘that he was one of their good ones too.'

‘Nothing known against,' responded the constable promptly, police-fashion. He hastily amended this to, ‘I mean, yes, sir. They say over there that he's very highly thought of in his own line.'

‘Which is?'

‘Hearts,' said Crosby succinctly. It seemed appropriate for the time of year. The constable was still debating the wisdom of sending a Valentine Day's card to a nubile young lady on the police station's switchboard. ‘And this is all about hearts.'

‘And her granny's heart in particular?'

Unlike most of the rest of the police station, Sloan had refused to be drawn on the matter of the Valentine. As a happily married man, 14 February no longer held any terrors for him and he meant to keep it that way.

‘Too right, sir.' He glanced down at his notebook. ‘A Mrs Hilda Galbraith. The granddaughter is called Susan Merton and she insists her grandmother had always wanted to live.'

*   *   *

‘Don't we all, miss?' Detective Inspector Sloan asked Susan Merton gently. She was young and pretty and very upset.

‘I didn't mean Granny wanted to live for ever,' said the girl carefully, ‘or that we wanted her to, even though she brought me up after my parents died. Of course she knew she would die one day. Everybody does…'

Sloan nodded sympathetically.

‘And there's that bit in Shakespeare saying golden lads and girls all must come to dust, isn't there?' Her eyes began to mist over. ‘Granny loved Shakespeare.'

‘Yes?' said Sloan encouragingly. The Immortal Bard was particularly good on the subject of death, but he didn't think this was the moment to say so.

‘She'd known for ages that she could die suddenly at any time. She'd even told us where her will was and what sort of funeral she wanted and everything. You see, she had had a bad heart for ages.'

‘Ah…'

‘Besides, Inspector, she'd slid back from Thomas Hardy's “all-delivering door” more than once.' She frowned. ‘Granny used to say that that poem of his called “A Wasted Illness” described what was happening to her very well.'

‘Really, miss?' As far as Detective Inspector Sloan was concerned, poetry – however distinguished – was not usually something that was given in evidence. And evidence was what counted in police cases, not allegations.

‘Anyway, Inspector, she'd had it spelled out by Dr Beaumont when she asked him – and we all knew it, anyway. You'd only to look at her blue lips. And she kept on having these terrible attacks of breathlessness.'

‘I see,' murmured Detective Inspector Sloan, although he wasn't at all sure that he did. Mrs Hilda Galbraith's number sounded to him to have been pretty nearly up anyway. Not, of course, that it should make any difference to a potential murder inquiry. On the other hand, it did add to the statistical likelihood of a natural death …

Susan Merton said, ‘Her son – that's my uncle Colin – came back to see her whenever he could, of course, but he's been through a nasty divorce and only just got married again, so it isn't easy for him to get down here now…'

Sloan made a mental note.

‘And he's had to start a new job up in the north. His own firm went bust, you see…'

Quite automatically, Detective Inspector Sloan made a written note of the name Colin Galbraith.

‘Although –' Susan Merton's face started to crumple into tears – ‘I'm afraid he didn't get here in time today.'

‘Ah…'

‘He's on his way back now and I know he'll be very upset when he arrives.'

‘I'm sorry,' said Sloan simply.

The girl took a deep breath and tried to steady herself. ‘But Granny always wanted to go on living as long as she could. I know she did.'

‘Don't we all?' said the policeman again.

‘Oh, no, Inspector.' She stared at him. ‘A lot of the patients in the hospital don't … especially the old ones who are very ill.'

As Sloan turned over a page in his notebook, he was reminded of an ancient character in one of Geoffrey Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales.
He was the old fellow in ‘The Pardoner's Tale' who spent his days searching for Death without being able to find him. Now, their Mr Daniel McGrew, decided Sloan, could probably have done something for him …

‘Sometimes they even ask you straight out when you're admitted there,' Susan Merton was saying.

Sloan came back to the present, keeping his pen at the ready. ‘They ask you if you want to die? Are you quite sure of that, miss?'

‘They ask you if you want to be actively resuscitated,' said the girl spiritedly, ‘which comes to the same thing, doesn't it?'

‘Well…' It wasn't only lawyers who could split hairs, of course. Doctors could be sophists, too.

‘And sometimes if you're really ill, they don't ask you at all,' declared the girl. ‘They just let you die.'

Sloan made a noncommittal noise well down his throat while he thought about this. Crosby appeared to be concentrating his mind on a pair of shapely ankles. If it hadn't been for the tear stains, the girl's face would have been really striking too. It was oval-shaped, with eyes of a deep, deep brown and hair to match. He couldn't see any young man hesitating about posting any number of Valentines in her direction tomorrow.

‘I don't mind that,' said Susan Merton more matter-of-factly. ‘In fact, sometimes I think it's better if the doctors do do the deciding themselves…'

Detective Inspector Sloan mentally reserved judgement on that too. He wasn't either a medical man or a theologian and these were muddy waters for a mere policeman.

‘Those who aren't ever going to get better, for instance,' went on Susan Merton. ‘The hopeless cases.'

Sloan made a note. Hopeless cases or not, policemen – mere or not – had a duty to see that the law was kept. And killing was unlawful. Not keeping alive might be something different, but that was not for him to say. He was, after all, only a policeman.

‘Sometimes those who are in what they call intractable pain too,' continued Susan Merton, twisting her handkerchief into a damp knot.

‘Like your grandmother?' Sloan suggested tentatively.

‘No, not like my grandmother,' she said at once. ‘She wasn't in great pain.'

‘Are you then alleg— That is, miss, are you then suggesting,' he asked, ‘that your grandmother's life-support machine was switched off without consultation?' His knowledge of the law on this point was a bit shaky. If someone was going to say that the patient had been thus intentionally killed, then ‘F' Police Division at Berebury stood a good chance of making legal case history.

‘No,' responded Susan Merton promptly. ‘She wasn't on a life-support machine.'

‘So, miss,' asked Sloan, his pen still hovering above his notebook, ‘what exactly is the problem, then?'

She sniffed and said in a muffled voice, ‘They – Dr Dilys Chomel, that is…'

‘And who might she be, miss?'

For the first time something approaching a smile flitted across Susan Merton's face. ‘Uncle Colin calls her God's representative on the ward, but she's actually Dr Beaumont's house physician.'

Detective Constable Crosby lifted his eyes from his study of Susan's ankles. ‘Who's God?'

She looked at him, surprised. ‘Dr Edwin Beaumont, of course. He's the consultant in cardiac medicine there.'

Detective Inspector Sloan, who was older and thus more experienced in the obeisance exacted by the medical hierarchy, hadn't needed to ask.

‘Dr Chomel's very nice,' went on Susan Merton, ‘but she was actually off duty when Granny … when … when it happened.'

Sloan made another note.

‘Dr Beaumont,' said the girl, ‘had already asked Granny whether or not she wanted to be resuscitated if she had yet another heart attack…'

‘And?' asked Sloan, leaving aside Dr Chomel's niceness as not really germane.

Susan burst into tears. ‘And Granny had said she did want to be. Definitely. I know, because I was there when Dr Beaumont and Dr Chomel discussed it, and so was Uncle Colin. He'd come down specially to see Dr Beaumont about Granny.' She swallowed visibly. ‘Neither of us wanted her to die either.'

‘So why, may I ask,' said the police inspector sternly, ‘are you now saying that the hospital killed Mrs Hilda Galbraith?'

‘Because they didn't even try to save her,' she sobbed. ‘That's why.'

Sloan stiffened. ‘I must remind you, Miss Merton, that it is a very serious accusation to make.'

‘They just let her die,' insisted the girl flatly, ‘and I think that's the same as killing her, whatever anyone else says.'

*   *   *

At the Berebury and District General Hospital Dr Dilys Chomel did her best to cast a professional gloss over Mrs Galbraith's death.

‘We have a policy here, Inspector,' she hastened to assure him, ‘of taking the patient's wishes into account in our decision-making processes as well as our own medical view of their future quality of life.' She added the latest medical mantra: ‘Illness is a partnership, you know.'

Sloan ignored this fashionable concept and got straight down to the tried and tested police agenda of first checking what he had been told. ‘Could you then, doctor, tell me exactly what Mrs Hilda Galbraith's own wishes were in this respect?'

‘Ah…' began Dr Chomel.

‘I take it you did know them?' He must remember that the old lady hadn't been on oath when she told her family she wanted to live. She might, he thought sympathetically, actually have wanted to be allowed to turn her face to the wall in peace, untrammelled by oxygen masks, needles and tubes, leaving herself undisturbed by the distress of her nearest and dearest, yet letting them happily believe that all that was medically necessary was being done for her.

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