PICKING UP THE SCENT
Relieved at not having to go back to Northwick Park and run the risk of bumping into Parish she spent days playing Ground Rush before looking at herself in the mirror and getting dressed. Deciding to be productive she looked into claiming housing benefit and realised as a student she could qualify for help. However, the assistance would not be enough to cover the full rent of her current flat, so she needed that move.
Sarah spent the next week decorating. Walking around the DIY outlets, she gathered paint and brushes. She mulled around stores, walking around the aisles without a care, enjoying the freedom of weekday shopping. There was one close call when she’d ducked down, near the store’s checkout, to avoid being seen by Nasser, shopping with his wife.
It was great to see his familiar face but she did not want to be caught into conversation with them.
Choosing neutral wall colours and bright white for the doors and woodwork she painted over the weathered colours her father had painted years before, transforming the flat into a clean and calm space. She stood back admiring her work. Occasionally wincing with her injuries, she made progress; painting, thinking about the years she’d spent with her parents, thoughts drifting.
She found herself thinking of Parish’s shocked face, so shocked he’d barely said a word to defend himself. It was like his brain couldn’t comprehend a woman taking control or worse, that he believed that she’d wanted him and was genuinely puzzled at her revenge attack. Sarah stood there, gazing into the air, brush in hand, reliving the image of the red canister crashing into Parish’s face and hearing the sound of his teeth crack.
During a tea break she searched online for videos of violence. After watching nine women savagely kick a man, until he wasn’t moving, she became sexually aroused. She stopped, closed the laptop and brought herself to orgasm. The victim, a local man, had raped and killed one of their children…Disturbed but intrigued with curiosity she searched for more. Justifiable violence was one thing but after watching a woman being stoned to death for adultery revulsion eventually overcame her. Crawling into the bathroom Sarah vomited into the toilet bowl.
Worried beyond sense that she may now have a violent streak and concerned at how much this could affect her daily life she made herself a cup of tea and sat back at the table, opened the laptop and tapped into the google search bar, why do humans enjoy being violent? Google presented page after a page of information on the studies done on violent behaviour. Reading several pages, she then searched again.
This time she typed; how do I cope with anxiousness?
Finding an online counselling service Sarah chatted with a friendly stranger. Not detailing the incidents, and saying she was raped by a friend, they messaged each other through the computer. She was told that getting out of that hotel room and surviving her own behaviour had been no small thing. But that she needed to accept that by putting herself in that position she’d showed a lack of protective factor towards herself. In mental health terms, it was called ‘destructive behaviour’.
The counsellor told her destructive behaviour was paramount to self-harming and just as damaging. Sarah felt she’d more than ‘just survived’. She thought she had grown. A new perspective was needed and new, matching life accessories. New flat. New job. New life. New cares.
Assured after her therapy session, Sara finishing decorating. She took pictures with her phone and put them up on three of the most popular social housing exchange sites along with the details of the flat. The social housing exchange system was flawed. Sarah found it stressful and didn’t see how it could work.
Soon she discovered that there were many reasons why people didn’t want her flat. The parking was busy, and residents had to get permits for themselves and visitors. The council tax was expensive. There was no Right to Buy. The garden was overgrown. When she found an old gentleman with a flat in Battersea and it fell through after he found somewhere else at the last moment, she gave up and placed an advert on Facebook.
Finding a small high-rise flat in Harrow close to the railway station where she could travel into and out of London had been hard and taken months. A family had been squashed into the one bedroom with their two children and friends of theirs had seen her advert.
They were keen to move to her larger flat with a garden. The parents had been fearful of the children falling out of the windows and of fire sweeping through the block. The tragic Grenfell fire had scared people, especially social housing tenants. Many were now worried about the maintenance of their tower block buildings.
In the old bathroom, Sarah looked at the almost empty packet of tramadol. The swap was going well. Her own property owner and the new doing the necessary inspections and paperwork well within the usual six weeks deadline. Her stolen supply of pain killers had now run out and it wasn’t so easy to get to the gym without the feeling of wellbeing they gave.
Easing off prescription drugs was difficult at the best of time but while she was packing up the flat was torture. She convinced herself that she was healed. But, if she’d had to be truthful to anyone about it, the withdrawal from the painkillers and the three nights of cold sweats and days of shivering was enough to make her think twice about using them again.
Painkillers served a purpose whilst her injured body was healing. Drugs could become a big problem if they became too much of a comfort, so she hadn’t tried to obtain more. Sarah was always able to buy cannabis to take the edge off the pain and help her manage.
There was so much to do, moving to a new home. The couple next door helped her with larger pieces of furniture when they saw her struggling. Sarah would miss her neighbours, but she couldn’t’ afford to be sentimental. Sometimes friendly but often not, she’d been burgled twice in the last year, and was looking forward to not worrying about security so much.
She sold most of her parents’ and her belongings using eBay. The new flat was smaller, it needed less furniture. She moved in a day, helped by a kindly man and van hired from the Standard classified section.
Sarah asked herself if she’d miss living in London. It was all she knew but was certain she needed to go. She looked forward to being where no one knew her and was enthused over everything to do with the move. When the day came, she locked up number 44, Mannock Road and travelled to her new home smiling.
South Harrow was dirty, old and vibrant. It was as busy as Woodgreen and just as friendly. The high street was filled with small independent stores. There was a huge South Asian and Black Caribbean community. The high street smelled like a market. There was nothing you couldn’t buy within a fifteen-minute walk. Hardly anyone she met seemed to come from Harrow and soon it felt like home. It seemed that just coming from London made you a local and it wasn’t long before she started to feel like one.
She’d always had time for people and felt her old self returning. Her confidence grew as she chatted small talk with the local convenience store assistant and got to know her new neighbourhood. Not being able to afford an internet connection, she started playing her game less and organising her social life more, meeting with old work colleagues occasionally.
During a works night out, Sarah told friends that she was going to go for a change of career and that next time they saw her on the ward she’d be wearing a white lab coat. There were raised eyebrows but they’d all been delighted of her decision to study to become a doctor.
Alexa had called to check she was okay but hadn’t bothered her with punters other than to heavily hint at her accompanying John to the naturist club. Sarah appreciated the space. She wondered if a pimp would have been so understanding. It had now been months since the incident, she needed money. As there was zero pressure she promised her Madam that she’d call John to arrange the date as soon as she had time.
Meanwhile, Sarah applied to medical school at St Georges College, London as a mature student to become a Trauma Specialist Surgeon. Her years of working as an A&E nurse stood her in good stead. The UK was desperate for experienced doctors. With Brexit looming, health professionals were leaving the NHS in droves, heading towards private practice or back to their country of origin.
The competition for funding being high at Northwick Park, she chose to stay away from the pressure of having to justify beds or pitch for resources. Her favorite area in the hospital setting had always been injury. She applied for junior placements in the private health care system. Her persistence getting her an interview, done over Skype, during which she made a great impression.
The new placement, in Harrow’s private Clementine Churchill hospital, was perfect, she would be able to continue working whilst studying. Accident and emergency doctors were both needed and respected. She applied for funding and received a loan to cover the full costs of the course. She’d have to cut back on eating out and work every shift offered but Sarah was under no illusions as to how hard it would be. Junior Doctors often resembled zombies.
However, she knew that small things need to be celebrated and purchased a reasonable bottle of champagne, had a bubble bath and applied a hydrating facial mask. Her cornflower soft skin was recovered and showing no sign of damage, leaning back into the hot, bubbly water, Sarah Cacroft sighed, allowing the healing thermal properties of water to ease her.
Over the next weeks, messages from friends inviting her out were politely declined and she signed up the new flat for broadband. She built up her armies in Ground Rush and battled online for her entertainment.
St George’s College was a fantastic building. Sarah loved going to her lectures but getting from Harrow to Tooting was not pleasant travelling. A journey, thankfully, she wasn’t expected to make too often. She found her studies weren’t especially challenging. Her assignments could be accessed online, easily researched at the college library and the tutor was happy for her to view recorded lectures when she couldn’t attend.
The pace of her life relaxed. Her new work placement was tiring, often dropping onto her bed in clothes she’d worn all day. The hours were long; and the pay barely covered her flat and expenses. She threw herself into it, contacting more women’s charities for funding, resisting a call to Alexa.
A lonely, Christmas came before she knew it. Isolation and the need to get her head out of the books, as well as a shortage of cash meant Sarah needed to arrange the date. No longer prepared to see clients generally this escort date could clear her £400. Sarah spoke to John, as Jennifer, but with her busy schedule couldn’t arrange a suitable time to see him. They spoke about Kestrels and Jennifer promised that it would be possible soon.
Being a doctor was a privilege that few doctors understood, even juniors. Coming from ‘the rank and file of the nurses’, from the rough and ready NHS hospitals to private care was not straightforward. It was the hard work she thought it would be and she found little time for the gym or boxing.
Nothing about the Clementine Churchill was like Northwick Park. The private hospital treated the patients with dignity. Consultations were done in privacy and patients had a bath option. Work smelt like disinfectant. She’d not seen a patient waiting in a corridor or left in embarrassing circumstances.
Her duties were lighter, more interesting and respectful staff never argued with the patients. But, best of all, there was no more disposable bedpans or sheet changes. Now Sarah was able to ask a nurse to do this, and she did so, often.
There was less messing around amongst colleagues, no tea and cake parties and less training meetings. The hospital was more efficient, the patients seemed super happy and the departments more organised for general respect being promoted. Records of patients were kept on a secure system where nurses and health care assistants couldn’t access them.
Her main duties were around supporting Triage in the A&E department. Gaining the respect of her colleagues by only bothering the senior consultants if necessary and always looking fabulous, she became a popular member of the team within weeks of joining. ‘Calm under pressure’ someone had scribbled under her photo, hung on the staffroom noticeboard.
Generally, the consultants covering most medical fields in the hospital were medical school graduates. The only other junior specialist in her age bracket, Dr Chung, was a homely doctor with sensible shoes.
There was one consultant who she was fond of. Often Sarah found herself looking for him at break time.
His name was Tomas. When Sarah was in her first week at Clementine’s, they’d bumped into each other coming in from the car park. It had been cold. Sarah wrapped up in an oversized scarf had been rushing without looking. The pair of them collided with some force when both attempting to enter the door.
Tomas had teased that he hoped her driving wasn’t as bad and she’d thrown him a dirty look. He caught it with a laugh and laughed some more at her expense when she declared, with a scowl, he’d be glad to know she didn’t drive and had come in on the train.
He’d apologized then and watched her animated facial expressions as she described her journey into work from the station. Explaining the climb uphill, then the fall downhill on the icy pavements. Turning around to show him her wet bottom, despite himself, Tomas found himself laughing. He found her hysterical and loved that she laughed at herself. She was, ‘down to earth’ as the English said.
Since that day, they often were able to eat lunch together and he had dropped her to the station, saving her the walk several times. He’d been at the hospital for two years in the position of consultant psychiatrist.
She was daydreaming about Tomas, staring at the computer screen when the triage nurse asked her to look at a new patient. A father had brought his son in with a suspected leg fracture. Nurse Caroline pulled back the curtain and Sarah followed into the cubicle.
Caroline immediately began to work cleaning up the boy but Sarah stopped dead in her tracks. Kevin Hargreaves was standing there. He glanced up but didn’t appear to recognise her, his eyes continued searching behind her. Not finding anything there, he returned his gaze back to Caroline saying, “I thought you were getting a doctor?”
Stepping forward, without a flicker of familiarity, Sarah said,
“Nurse Caroline did. How can I help? I’m Doctor Cacroft.”
She held out her hand.
He ignored it and turned back towards the boy laying on the bed.
“Mr. Hargreaves, Kevin.” He said. “My son has hurt his leg.”
Sarah dropped her extended hand, saying,
“I’m the trauma specialist. I’ll assess your son and organise his treatment.” Moving towards the bed she softly said,
“Hello Simon, I’m Doctor Cacroft, you can call me Sarah, I understand that you were playing Rugby? You tell me what happened while I examine you and you tell me when it hurts.”
The boy watched her put on some purple rubber gloves and proceeded to feel along his leg, only tensing when her hand was directly on the break.
Simon was eager to talk. He excitedly explained that he loved rugby, practically shouting through the story. He called the event his ‘great try’. He’d been running down the left flank when a player from the other team had dragged his feet from under him, but he stretched out, gaining five points.
However, when the second player had thrown himself on the first Simon heard a crack and felt the pain in his leg. He’d been carried off the field in a stretcher before the end of the match and was desperate to know if he’d contributed to a win.
She listened and assured Simon that he’d be well cared for before arranging for him to be sent for an x-ray accompanied by this father. Simon was then sedated while they waited to see if his leg needed resetting. A specialist orthopedic surgeon was assigned to set the leg, if found necessary, and Caroline dealt with the father, showing him where he could sit and wait.
Iqbal, the radiographer, worked quickly and soon called her with his findings. They examined the x-rays together and determined a spiral fracture to the fibula. This was a fracture that would need to be immobilized by cast. Iqbal suggested a physio cast, one made from lycra and Velcro, but Sarah argued boys Simon’s age should have no option to remove it. Laughing, the other doctor agreed.
They were able to treat Simon that afternoon, so behind the scenes, Sarah worked fast booking several appointments for them to return. According to the hospital records, the boy had been in the hospital before with a broken arm the previous summer.
She organised for him to have some nutritional advice to run alongside his physiotherapy once the leg had healed and a bone density scan. Nurses at the hospital persuaded Kevin to sign up for the TB vaccine, that Simon would need next year.
Over the next few months, when Simon came in for his appointments Sarah became the background assistant, staying out of Kevin’s sight, she gathered all the information about his family she could. She wasn’t aware yet what she was planning to do but was certain that gaining knowledge of Kevin’s loved ones gave her more options.
Sarah had, in her possession his sperm, resting in her freezer, sitting there between the fishfingers and crispy pancakes. She had his home address, not just the hotels that they’d met at. His real home, where he lived with his current girlfriend and his two children.
The wife was seemingly still off the scene. In her conversations with Simon, mum wasn’t referred to, it was Kevin’s girlfriend, ‘mum Jane’, he spoke of. She assumed that his real mother was not in the picture. A wife wasn’t named as next of kin either, just Kevin’s name was on Simon’s paperwork to be contacted in case of emergencies.
Sarah toyed with the idea of trying to contact the ex-wife to see if she had been treated badly. If she could find her, she imagined they could hatch a plot of revenge between them. However, other person could be a liability, so Sarah decided against it.
For a revenge plot to work it must remain undetected. Trouble was not wanted. She’d never intentionally hurt anyone before this year. Even thinking about hurting another person started a fast pounding in her ribcage.
Although the thought made her ill, she knew revenge was needed. He’d passed over an invisible baton…an order of war. He’d injected it into her that night in the hotel room. If Kevin thought he had paid his debt with money, he was mistaken.
The guilt at manipulating the boy would be okay, Sarah felt like she could cope. It was not despair like the deadening emotion that overwhelmed her when thinking about what Kevin had done, she’d trusted him.
Two men had now treated her like a doll, like a robot, devoid of feelings of pain or emotion. They’d wanted something and had taken it. She needed to adopt the same attitude.
At the time of the assault, Kevin’s desires dominated and overrode his own morality, she wasn’t human. He saw her as an instrument to release his need. It mattered not that she didn’t want to be that instrument. It mattered not that her rectum had never had that treatment and was not prepared. He wanted her, so consumed her, like a product he’d plucked off the shelf.
Sarah sat, triggered, in the staff room, stirring a cup of soup. She felt more of a need to take Kevin’s life apart than ever. To make him pay. Imagine not recognizing her? It was disgustingly rude. He had been her regular. His violent assault had been one of her worse experiences in life, and yet seemed not to register to him. She felt rage but allowing that rage to become too powerful would be a mistake.
Sarah had fun imagining what she could do with his personal information. Kevin Hargreaves’ debit card details were now hers. As doctors, they rarely got involved with the administration and payments, preferring for the office sort it out. When she’d asked for the Hargreaves bill, no one had noticed. Then, seeing Caroline busy, Sarah simply offered to return the forms to the desk.
Taking the photos with her phone had taken seconds, but if asked to describe it, she’d confess it had not been an easy task. Her anxiousness haunted her every move. The corridor busy, with people walking past her. Thinking someone would tap her on the shoulder and ask her what on earth she was doing. She’d had a real job staying calm. Thankfully, they were all too hurried to notice.
Weeks later, when Simon was due to leave the hospital, she’d worked out a rough strategy. Kevin hadn’t attended his son’s physio treatments. Busy with work commitments he’d sat in his car and made calls. This allowed her time with Simon. She’d managed several conversations on Ground Rush. They talked gaming and Sarah gave him a hack for free warriors. She had his Facebook details and they exchanged online messages ingame.
Assuring her patient, she’d be around when he came back in, for his final follow up they’d said their goodbyes. She told him to look after himself, even threatening to make sure he attended his appointments.
“We can always arrange a collection service.” She joked.
Standing behind net curtains in the foyer Sarah watched them drive away. There was more to be done but having been in contact with the boy she had a way in to Kevin’s world. She smiled, raising her hand to her throat, to play with her necklace and found nothing.
Kevin Hargreaves pulled away from the hospital and sighed as his son declared loudly that he was starving hungry. Telling him to find the nearest drive-through, they followed the directions on his phone’s google maps to the A41. His son chatted about everything from nurse uniforms to the new Ground Rush release whilst he thought about food and women.
If the boy wanted to have MacDonald’s for dinner it would save trying to talk Jane into cooking and the evitable battle trying to make the children eat what was cooked.
Jane was becoming a liability but was still useful and beautiful. Drawn to her sexually, she helped him out, kept his bed warm and kept the house nice. Sometimes he needed to sleep at work, at the hotel he was managing, but he’d picked Simon up as Jane wasn’t good at this sort of thing. With their mother not around he provided the children a ‘home’. Jane was an essential part of that, not that he’d let her know that.
His solicitor had made it clear that a home environment that was clean and involved a regular, consistent presence of a mother figure would be met more favorably with the family court and judge. Often, because he was unavoidably working far from home, having Jane there made sense. As Larry said,
“Mrs. Hargreaves could come back and file for custody. You need to get your affairs in order”.
And, although he knew it impossible, he’d learnt from history to take Larry’s advice. He’d been smart to retain Larry, metaphorically slapping himself on the back for having private medical care too his thoughts turned to the doctor, if that’s what she was.
He screwed up his face in thought. What had she said she was? A trauma specialist? Whatever, Dr. Cacroft had fixed up the boy up well, taken the boy under her wing, really involving herself in his care.
At first, he’d thought that she was an escort, Jennifer, he’d seen a year or so ago, the similarity was close, but this woman had more class and was taller. Having the same hair though…? That had temporarily winded him. He’d have to watch himself, can’t be disrespecting the wrong ones. He pulled the car off the road into the McDonald’s drive thru and up to the intercom, his son keenly shouting his order at the microphone on the kiosk.
As Simon ordered, his Dad’s phone rang, Jane was calling. He listened as his father picked up and asked what they wanted. The response made him laugh and he told her that they were on their way home. He’d eaten his bacon double cheeseburger and large fries and was back on his phone sucking up the last of his coke by the time they pulled up in York Ave.
His father bowled in through the front door, not holding it open long enough to help Simon walk through it. The heavy wooden and glass door came back and hit him against his leg. His groan was met with a laugh from his father; his attention already elsewhere.
“Hi hun we’re home and have food! I saved mine so I could eat with you girls. Where are you beautiful creatures?”
Giggles came from Tori as she ran up to meet her father and brother. Jane, in the kitchen, applied fresh lipstick and followed. Kevin grabbed Tori and threw her into the air, catching her around her waist and held her in outstretched arms kissing her belly,
“Or maybe I should eat you first!”
“No, Daddy.” Tori squealed, struggling away from him and trundling towards where the brown, paper MacDonalds bag had gone, following her chips.
copyright sam J harris 2022
all characters and interactions are fictional
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