DEATH IN MIND – PREVIEW
Five minutes before she killed herself, Sarah Brooke had never had a suicidal thought in her life. In fact as she waited for her train home that evening, the only thing on her mind apart from the cold, was what to do about dinner.
Gary’s call saying he’d been dragged into an urgent meeting and may not be home until, ‘Ten, at the earliest,’ had blown her plans for a surprise three-year-anniversary supper. Both working for the same bank – she Accounts, him Lending – the resurgent banking crisis was still playing havoc with their home life. The alternative supper option – a delve in the freezer for a ready-meal – didn’t hold much appeal. But the way her journey home was shaping up, it was rapidly becoming the most likely. Turning her face to the display board above the platform, she read the latest update.
The next train through Crewe Station’s Platform 11, due in four minutes, was the Glasgow to Euston Inter-City Express. Her own, Stafford, train showed three back – twenty minutes later than its scheduled time. It was the third such delay this week. And it was still only Thursday.
As the chill wind that haunts railway hubs in winter wafted down the platform, Sarah folded across the lapel of her camel-wool coat, and resolved to wear a thicker scarf tomorrow. Maybe even the multi-coloured horror Gary had brought her last Christmas, part of a gift set. With no sign of the late cold snap that had gripped the country the past week disappearing, style may just have to go on hold for a while.
Better than bloody freezing.
She thought about making her way back to the American Coffee House the other end of the platform and grabbing a cappuccino. At least it would take her away from the annoying cacophony she’d been subjected to the last few minutes.
When she’d first arrived at her usual waiting spot, three-quarters of the way down the platform, she hadn’t given the middle-aged man in the full-length Crombie and quirky Fedora pulled low a second glance. But after a few minutes, as the sound of some vaguely familiar tune she couldn’t quite make out intruded more and more into her consciousness, she’d turned to see where it was coming from. She’d been surprised, given his age, when she saw the trendy Beats over his ears and from which the music was leaking.
Thinking of him again prompted her to glance over her shoulder, which was when she realised. He was standing much closer to her now, barely a metre away and still all-but hidden behind the newspaper which obscured his face. The page facing showed a headline above a report with an accompanying photograph. Sarah paid it scant regard yet still gleaned it was something to do with a lighthouse, some dramatic rescue. For some reason the image it evoked, like the music, seemed strangely familiar.
Deja-vu, or what?For his part, the man in the hat seemed oblivious to the annoyance he was causing. She wondered what the thumping beat must be doing to his eardrums if she could hear it so clearly. It also made her think again on what it was. It irked more than she knew it should that she couldn’t place it.
Thrusting her gloved hands deeper into her pockets, she decided. Though the cappuccino down the platform wasn’t up to much, it was preferable to having to listen to some weirdo’s idea of music. But as she made to turn to where the café’s leaded windows cast a spider’s web of yellow light across the platform, she was surprised to discover she was reluctant to tear herself away. It felt almost like she was in the grip of some compulsion by which she couldn’t leave until she had identified what the music was, where she had heard it before. The deep bass tones had a curiously affecting quality.
And now there was something else.
Though she couldn’t say why, her brain seemed to be making a connection between the music and the story she had glimpsed in the newspaper – the one about the lighthouse rescue. An image of a cheering light, growing brighter, came to her. A feeling she couldn’t really describe other than it seemed to contain elements of both apprehension and elation, rose within her.
At that moment a voice, low, but melodious and silky smooth, sounded close to her ear.
‘Make ready, Sarah. Your salvation draws near.’
She knew at once it was Him, though how she knew, she couldn’t say. And there was something about the words that made her feel lethargic, like she had suddenly been drained of energy. More than that, they brought with them an overwhelming feeling of sadness.
What’s happening to me? she thought.
Close to that time of the month, Sarah’s first thought was she was about to experience one of her debilitating migraines. But as her vision stayed clear and the nauseous pain didn’t come, she dismissed it. This was something else. Confused and a little concerned, Sarah glanced behind.
At first, all she could see was the newspaper, still hiding his features. But then, slowly, it began to lower. At the same time the head and hat behind lifted so that, bit-by-bit, a pair of eyes, dark and staring behind thick-framed glasses, appeared over the top to meet hers.
Across the tracks on Platform 10, the young man in the worn anorak lowered his new Canon to stare across at the face that was so familiar, worried about the sudden change he’d seen come over her.
Throughout their relationship, such as it was, the thing Wayne Clarke had always liked most about Sarah was her self-assurance. Whether sitting at one of the Coffee House’s round tables sipping cappuccino, talking, animatedly, into her mobile or just waiting for her train, Sarah always showed herself as the sort he liked best. Businesslike, oozing confidence and with beautiful, blond hair – his favourite, though he had been known to stretch to redheads and, once even, a brunette.
Wayne Clarke was twenty-four. Unusually in one so young, his work-life balance was about where he wanted it to be. The reason was simple. Wayne had but two interests. Trains, and women. The first came from a time-served British Rail signalman-grandfather who went out of his way to make sure his only grandson shared his life-long passion for railways. In this regard, Crewe Station’s Signal box Number Three had substituted well for pre-school. His second interest came simply from nature.
Through luck or judgement, by the time Wayne was twenty and working as a station booking clerk, he had hit on a strategy through which he could indulge both interests at once. And while most might regard it as distasteful – maybe even disturbing – in reality it involved doing nothing more than what like-minded people do day-in, day-out, at railway venues around the world. Taking photographs.
Wayne had learned long ago that provided he remembered to focus first on those quirks of railway architecture, rolling stock and platform furniture that only the enthusiast sees, no one ever noticed when he shifted his attention – and camera – to his other interest.
Work-shifts allowing, Wayne had been ‘seeing’ Sarah for almost three months now. In that time, he had taken hundreds of pictures of her. It was why he noticed, immediately, when the face that was so attractive he sometimes ached, suddenly began to crumble, as if she had just received the most awful, shocking news.
Lowering his camera, he swung his gaze around the platform, checking to see what has happening that might explain her distress. But there was nothing. Everyone was just stood around waiting, quiet as usual, on their mobiles, listening, reading, staring into space.
He lifted the camera again and zoomed in, checking he wasn’t mistaken. But now she’d turned away and for seconds all he could see was the back of her head – a beautiful curtain of shimmering gold. As he waited, he wondered what she was looking at, or if she was speaking to someone, though he couldn’t see who. The nearest person to her was an older man bundled up in a dark coat and a hat pulled low, but he was engrossed in his paper. Eventually she started to turn. The camera’s shutter-mode was set to ‘continuous’ as he pressed and held the ‘shoot’ button. What he saw as her face came into view sent Wayne’s stomach into free-fall.
Tears streamed her cheeks, the look on her face, one of utter hopelessness. Yet less than a minute before she had seemed at ease, happy even, if maybe a little distracted.
What the Hell’s happened, he thought? He wondered if she might have received some tragic news on her mobile, but he’d witnessed the moment the change began and was sure she wasn’t using it. He zoomed in on the face he knew so well, but at that moment she turned again to look over her shoulder. But not all the way this time. He could still see her, three quarters-profile.
Her lips moved.
She was speaking to someone.
He checked those around through the view finder, but the only person close was the man in the hat, and he was still reading his paper, paying no attention. Wayne wondered how he could be so near to her, yet not notice her distress.
About to focus back on Sarah, Wayne stopped, suddenly. Though the hat shielded most of the man’s face, the zoom was sufficient for him to see that the man’s lips were moving, as if he was talking but without looking up or shifting his gaze from the paper.
Returning to Sarah, Wayne saw the vacant look was even more pronounced than before.
‘What’s wrong, Sarah?’ The words sprang, unbidden, from his lips, driven by the illusion she was right before him. A few feet away, to Wayne’s right, a woman in a green Macintosh and with a stash of carrier-bags at her feet turned to look at him. Nudging the bags with her foot, she shuffled further away, all the time keeping him in her field of vision.
As Sarah turned, suddenly, to loom large in the lens, Wayne rocked back, tricked into thinking she was about to bump into him. Panning out a couple of stops he saw she was swaying from side to side, as if dazed, or even drunk. She lowered her head and he followed her gaze, tracking down until he came to the mobile in her hand. She stared at it for some while, before going through the rapid finger-thumb thing at which young women in particular are so expert. Finished, the hand dropped, loosely, back to her side.
About her, people were stirring, beginning to pick up cases and bags, shifting their positions. Wayne swung the camera onto the monitor above where Sarah was stood. It still gave the ETA of the Stafford train as three minutes, but showed the next train through Platform 11, the Inter-City Glasgow to Euston Express, as due in one. Something crawled in Wayne’s gut. He returned to Sarah. She wasn’t there.
Lowering the camera, he swung his gaze around the platform. He picked her up thirty yards away, walking stiffly, arms at her side, staring straight ahead. He brought the camera to bear just as something – her mobile – fell from her hand. She didn’t stop to pick it up.
Where’s she going? He followed her progress away from the main body of commuters.
The public address system blared. A voice, echoey, male, ethnic and heavily accented, warned of the imminent approach of the Glasgow to Euston Express. Passengers on Platform 11 should stay well back from the yellow line. Sarah carried on several yards then stopped, close to the north end of the platform. Away to his right, through the station and beyond, Wayne could see the express approaching, its bright light piercing through the evening dark. At the same time, a rushing noise began to fill the station, growing louder.
‘Sarah-’ Wayne tried, but stopped. There was no way she could hear him. He watched her turn ninety degrees right to face the tracks. Even without the camera, he could see she was crying.
The approaching light grew stronger.
This time he shouted, ‘SARAH’.
Those nearest cast wary glances in his direction. He started down the platform just as she took three, zombie-like paces forward, taking her over the yellow line. She stopped at the platform’s edge. Wayne quickened his pace.
The light from the approaching express cast a shadow behind her. She turned towards it, as if gauging the right moment. Wayne broke into a sprint.
The noise grew to a crescendo as the Glasgow to Euston Intercity Express rushed into the station.
At the same time, Sarah Brooke stepped off the platform.