The Bull Singer
Craythorn Memorial Hospital
Maisie adjusted her starch white cap and re-pinned it onto her snow-white curls, washed her hands carefully and went on duty. The first thing she noticed when she entered the ICU ward was that the boy was still sitting by bed number four, head bent as he clutched his girlfriend's hand. He had come into the ward yesterday afternoon with that sweet old man Mr Crossman, and had refused to leave. There was no hope of course. The girl had slipped into a coma shortly after giving birth to a beautiful little boy with hair as dark as his daddy's. There could be no mistaking who his daddy was. Now the girl was fully surrounded by monitors and wasn't breathing on her own any more. Apparently, the girl had fallen down the stone stairs in the apartment block where she lived. It was a wonder she had delivered so easily; her vital signs being so erratic. But now, her hypertension had rocketed and, her kidneys were packing up. She had suffered irreparable brain damage and had been unconscious since being admitted, poor thing. Maisie beckoned to a young trainee nurse. "Has that young man had anything to eat today?"
"Not that I'm aware of, Sister."
"Well nip down to the canteen and tell Mr Bedford, I need a breakfast tray sent up. Make sure you tell him who sent you, okay?"
"Yes, sister." The girl almost curtseyed before hurrying off on her errand. Maisie smiled to herself; as Claythorn's senior Nurse, she had gathered a trusting and faithful staff around her; almost making her feel she was a matron again. Those were the days, when Matrons ran the hospitals, and superbugs were unheard of. Only her admiration for the senior administrator, Dan Clowes, had brought her out of retirement to help him turn this hospital round from the threat of closure to a much-needed emergency hospital. Half an hour later, Maisie came back from her rounds to find the lad picking at the contents of a tray while still holding onto Jenny's hand. Down the corridor, a tall figure strode towards her. She didn't like this man; there was something about him that made Maisie bristle.
He would have marched straight past her had she not stepped forward. "Excuse me, sir, but visiting hours are eleven until twelve, two until four, and seven until eight thirty."
The man glared at her. "I'm Mr Prescott, Jenny's father and I wish to see my daughter about the adoption."
"Mr Prescott, I'm afraid your daughter is in a coma and no condition to talk to anyone. I believe you were informed last night how ill she is."
"If that is so, why have you let that freak in here?"
"That freak, as you so rudely call him, is here at the patient's request, Mr Prescott, and he has been here at her side ever since she was admitted, which can't be said for you or your wife. As for an adoption, I'm sure that if one is required, the baby's father will talk to you later about it."
Mr Prescott snorted. "If you think I will let that little faggot touch my daughter's baby, you are quite mistaken, madam. The social services have already been informed of the baby's birth and they will be here shortly and have my full consent to pick up the baby. Good day."
Maisie stared, open mouthed, after the departing man then her sense of justice kicked in and her eyes narrowed. "Well! We'll see about that Mr Hard Cheese." She marched to the nurses' station and picked up the phone. "Will you page Dr. Green for Sister Banks, please?" Moments later, the phone rang. She picked it up and heard a familiar voice. "Mike, I'm so glad you're still on the premises. I think we need to talk about Baby Prescott. It seems he might need to be kept in for another day for observation."
"He was all right this morning, Maisie."
"Well, Mike, it may be another case of Rushtonitis."
There was a pause before Dr. Green said "Oh, when?"
"Sometime this morning?"
"Right, give me a call when things start to happen."
An hour later, Jenny Prescott's life ebbed away, and her parents arrived, accompanied by two police officers, who explained to Maisie and the lad, that Mr and Mrs Prescott did not want him around, and they were to remove him from the ward, claiming all sorts of things he was supposed to have done to their daughter. He wasn't even allowed to see the baby before he was marched outside the hospital grounds and told not to come back, or face arrest. By the time the social workers were due to arrive, Maisie was beside herself with anger and frustration. She knew the lad had lost his foster father the day before, and now to lose both girlfriend and baby would surely be too much. Maisie had helped care for Harold Briggs before the lad had arrived to be with him, and he had whispered things to her, about his sister. He had mumbled a telephone number and she had written it down on the back of a sticky-note. Now where had she put it? Poor lad, it wasn't his fault he was gay. Folks were born that way or they weren't, and she had watched her own son suffer for his feelings. At least this lad had tasted the other side of the fruit and had produced such a sweet little cherub. She had to pass by the baby unit on her way to retrieve her handbag from her locker, so she went in and made her way to Baby Prescott's crib. His eyes were open and he seemed to look straight at her, his little arms waving about as if he knew he was supposed to hold onto something. His tiny legs kicked about as he fussed and fretted. "Well, you're going to turn out to be a right little footballer aren't you? Or is it a dancer? Never mind, my sweet; I'm going to try my best to see you stay with your daddy, if it's the last thing I do. You hang in there, little man. I'll be seeing you soon, after I've made a phone call. I know it's against regulations to do what the almoner is supposed to do, but as we don't have an almoner here, I'm your next best thing. What are they going to do if they catch me, sack me?" As she watched the little mite, his mouth worked its way round soundless words, as if to say he understood before his eyes closed and he relaxed into a peaceful slumber.
The sound of a helicopter passing over the house brought me awake and into a warm hug. Pete's embrace was warm and loving as he helped me wake up with a flurry of little kisses all over my face and neck. "Wake up, sleepy."
I groaned and tried to burrow my way back under the covers and into the human pillow I had made of his body. "What time is it?"
"Too early," I grunted. "It's Sunday, no school today."
"Never mind about school; breakfast is always early in this household, or you go hungry until lunchtime." I was so comfortable and the bed so warm, Pete had to rip the covers off me and drag me, protesting, to the ensuite bathroom. Once we had used the toilet, Pete switched on the shower and pushed me under the water. We showered together to save time and water and would have stayed there a lot longer if someone hadn't hammered on the bathroom door.
"YOU TWO IN THERE! It's no use me humping my butt all the way down here to help you find your brother if you're going waste the morning doing Lord knows what. You've got three minutes to get to the kitchen or your breakfast is in the bin."
Pete and I stared in horror at each other. "JESSIE!"
We dived out of the shower in a tangle of arms and legs and ended up, giggling, on the floor. How we managed to get dry and dressed in three minutes was a miracle and we still felt rather damp when we finally trotted into the kitchen towelling our hair, to find Jessie, standing by the table with her arms folded and a face like thunder. Behind her, Magsy and the Crayels smiled from their seats at the table trying hard not to laugh. Dirty minds!
"Well?" Jessie barked, tapping her foot on the tiles. "What have you to say for yourselves?"
I plastered a childish expression of innocence. "Umm, what's for breakfast?"
That defeated Jessie's attempts to control the situation, and she threw her hands in the air, declaring, "I give up!" She sat down at the table and folded her arms once more.
Mags grabbed me in a bear hug and I would have kissed him but he whispered in my ear, "Easy kiddo, we're just uncle and nephew for now, okay?" I realised he was right, and had to be content with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek before we parted and went to sit down at the table. For the sake of appearances Peter got the same hug and kiss. Before I sat down, however, I went to Jessie, threw my arms round her shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek, causing her to flap her hands at me, but I saw the gleam in her eyes, hinting at her pleasure.
"So why are you here, Mz. Welch?" I asked as I sat down beside her.
"Remember the terms of Mags's bail? No contact unless fully supervised. Wild horses wouldn't have kept him away from you, so here I am; under duress I might add; looking for a brother indeed!"
"We were told to come and find Ricardo," Pete replied.
"And just who is supposed to have told you?"
"Billy." As I said his name, I looked at Mags, who raised shocked eyes to meet mine. "It's true, Mags. Pete and I had the same dream at the same time. He told us Richard would need us soon."
Jessie snorted. "Forgive me for being sceptical. I never did believe in ghosts."
Ann rose from the table to start serving breakfast. "I believe them, Jessie. As I said when you arrived, Mother and my uncle Harold were part of the plan to rescue the boys. If their dead brother told them Ricardo's in danger, that's enough for me."
"Maybe," Jessie said, "but we have to be realistic. The only evidence the courts will accept are things like your birth certificates and your parents' marriage lines, and Mags says his researcher friend found nothing to substantiate your theories."
"Perhaps that's because he was looking in the wrong place." I said, turning to Mags. "Do you think your friend Jeremy could do some digging in the Italian records?"
Mags stared at the plate of food Ann placed in front of him for a moment. "Well he did say to get back to him if I wanted his help so I reckon a phone call won't do any harm. I'll phone him after we've eaten. Thanks for this, Ann, it looks wonderful."
While we ate, pictures of the D'Marco family were passed round the table, including Mrs. Crayel's copy of the picture we had found. Mags produced pictures of Billy Junior to compare him with me, and everyone, including Jessie, agreed, we were a perfect match. Her appetite sated, Jessie pushed her plate away and said, "Right, everyone, this is what I suggest we do. First of all, Mags gets in touch with his researcher friend and asks his aid in searching the Italian records for birth and marriage entries. Our second task will be to find Harold Briggs. Mrs. Crayel, where was he living the last time you had any contact with him?"
Pete's grandmother shook her head. "I don't recall his address but I do remember part of his telephone number. 'O One, One Seven'."
"That's the area code," Jessie said. "Anything else you can remember?"
Mrs. Crayel shook her head again. "The last time I tried his number I got the unavailable signal. That was sixteen years ago. I think he might have changed it or gone X-directory; is that what you call it?"
Jessie nodded. "Well at least it's a start; it sounds like a Bristol or Avon code. Mr Crayel, do you have a computer I may use? The phone book for this area won't have those number in it, so I intend to use my authority as a senior social worker to pull a few strings."
I watched Richard lead Jessie into the lounge then turned my attention to Mags who sat nursing his coffee with a smirk of amusement on his face. "What gives Mags?"
Mags chuckled, took a sip of coffee and said, "I was just thinking, it's not so much a case of Custer's charge, as Apocalypse Now. Da dada da da…..da dada da da….da dada da da….da dada da," he sang the Ride Of The Valkyries with gusto and I remembered the scene where the cavalry flew in with helicopters and loud music. I had to laugh at the thought of having our very own Lt. Colonel Kill-Gore on board; but helicopters? As if reading my mind, Mags pointed his left index finger to the ceiling and described a circling motion. Eyes wide, I turned to Pete and found him in the same state of shock. Names suddenly clicked into place, in sequence. Mags, Jessie, Elias, chopper pilot. Oh, wow! That chopper that woke us up was the cavalry flying in. As if to confirm it, a war cry sounded from somewhere on the other side of the lounge. "Gotcha!"
We all followed Ann into the lounge and through another door into a tiny office where Jessie sat punching the air with the enthusiasm of a football fan. "I got in touch with Social Services in Bristol and used my official rank to access the information out of their records. A Mr Harold Briggs lives at Aidlemere Cottage, Taunton Road, Claythorn, Bristol. All we have to do now is either find his phone number or go there in person. Does the address ring a bell, Mrs. Crayel?"
Pete's grandmother had followed us to the office at a more sedate pace. She shook her head and her eyes filled with tears. I'm sorry, I don't recognise all of it but the town seems vaguely familiar."
"Well, could you tell me Harold's date of birth?"
"Yes, it's sixth of August nineteen-twelve."
Jessie typed busily then sat back as some more details came on the screen. "There we are; Harold Briggs, born sixth of the eighth, nineteen-twelve. Now residing at Aidlemere Cottage, Taunton Road, Claythorn, Bristol. Telephone number, X-Directory, which even I can't access without authority direct from the home office. That means we break camp and go to Claythorn." She shut down the computer and turned to face us. "There is a little problem of course. The helicopter we came in will only take five passengers and there are seven of us, assuming that all of us wish to travel to Claythorn."
"Well I doubt mother will want to travel in the helicopter," Ann said. "You were never good at flying, were you Mother? And neither am I. Unfortunately our car is in the garage for its MOT, otherwise I would drive us there."
"For all we know, Angela could have found Ricardo by now," Mags said. "I think we men ought to use the helicopter in case we hit trouble. The ladies can use my car which Pete and Joey used to get here.."
"That sounds a good idea." Jessie rose to her feet and surveyed her troops with the air of a general. "Thank you, Mags, that will be a great help. Ann, can you handle a BMW 328 CXI?"
Ann smiled. "After driving four ton trucks in the WRAC's for three years I can drive anything."
Jessie's face lit up with a smile that made her look years younger and not so starchy. "Interesting! I was in the WRAC's myself. Joined up in nineteen-sixty and saw action in Aden for a while."
Ann's jaw dropped. "Oh, my goodness! You're THE Jessie Welch! The Sergeant who went into Crater, with Colonel 'Mad Mitch' Mitchell." She looked round at our surprised faces and said, "Everyone, you just don't know who you're dealing with here. Jessie is a heroine among WAC circles even today."
Jessie hung her head as her face turned beetroot red. "Well I wouldn't say that."
"Oh, come on, Captain Bashful," Ann insisted. "Sergeant Jessie Welch saved the lives of ten wounded soldiers about to be slaughtered in a house where they were trapped. She drove her truck straight up to the house and rammed the enemy vehicle, grabbed her rifle and with only one other WAC to cover her, went into the house and rescued all but one of the soldiers. Apparently the enemy didn't know what hit them. She received a field commission and was promoted to second Lieutenant. She received an honorary discharge in nineteen eighty-five and retired with the rank of Captain."
Beside herself with excitement, Ann forgot where she was and actually came to attention and saluted Jessie, who drew herself up to her full height and returned the salute before stepping forward to throw her arms round Ann. "I seem to remember you were a bit of a shiner as well. Your name was Hodgkins wasn't it?" Now it was Ann's turn to blush. "You were in my unit in the Falklands weren't you? You were wounded and shipped back to England as I remember, then you disappeared. Where did you go?"
"I couldn't go back on active duty so I moved to the adjutant corps and ended up at the British Embassy in Rome. My boss was the military attaché's assistant and his name was Richard Crayel." She gave Richard a warm smile and he winked at her. "We were due to come home when William D'Marco asked us to help with the boys, and our diplomatic status came in very handy."
"I see! Well, I hope you're ready for more manoeuvres, because Angela will no doubt be ready to do battle. It's up to us to keep a few steps ahead of her."
"How about mother and I setting up a decoy?" Ann asked her. "We can move out as soon as possible and if anyone is watching the house, they'll follow us and leave you free to use the helicopter without being seen."
"Oh, no! I'm not putting Mother into any danger." Richard retorted.
"Nonsense." Mrs. Crayel stepped in front of Richard and glared up at him. "Don't forget who first taught you how to handle a pistol, young man. It certainly wasn't your father"
Any further argument was brought to a halt by the ringing of the phone. Ann answered it and turned to Mrs. Crayel.
"Mother, it's a Maisie Banks asking for you."
Mrs. Crayel frowned as she took the phone from her. "This is Mrs. Crayel; whom am I speaking to?" After a few seconds, she sat down, her face turning grey, and held out the phone to Richard. "It's about Harold. He's…"
Richard grabbed the phone and put it on speaker mode so we could all here both sides of the conversation. "Hello, this is Harold Briggs's nephew, Richard Crayel. Do you have news of my uncle?"
"Yes. My name is Maisie Banks, senior nurse at Claythorn Memorial Hospital in Claythorn, Bristol. I'm sorry to be the bear of such sad news but Mr Banks died yesterday and I've only just been able to find your mother's number. I know there is no urgency for you and your mother to come rushing over to do with Harold, but I'm concerned about his son and the baby."
"Son?" Richard glanced round at his mother who shook her head at him. "I'm sorry, there must be some mistake; Harold was a bachelor and had no children."
"I'm so sorry, I should have said his foster son, Ricky. The boy is about to have his baby taken from him."
"I don't understand, who wants to take the baby?"
"The Social Services."
At this, Jessie reverted back to Elvira Gulch. Leaning over the phone she took over the situation. "Sister Banks, this is Jessie Welch, Oldham Social Services. Where is the baby now?"
"In the baby unit at Claythorn Hospital."
"And when is the baby to be removed from your custody."
"Well, they were supposed to pick him up this morning but I fobbed them off with a story that he was not so well, and told them to come back at two o'clock this afternoon."
"Good for you, Sister! Hang onto that baby, we're on my way." Switching off the phone, Jessie turned to us and said, "Right everyone. We have work to do. No time to hold back while Ann creates a decoy. We move out now!"
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