This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 1140 words.
Seeing the two police officers approaching, Anita stopped dead. “What is it? Do you have some news of my husband?” The female officer turned to her colleague, and he gestured for her to speak. “Can we all go inside, Mrs Hollis? We have something we would like to talk to you about”. Once in the living room, they didn’t keep her in suspense. “Jane Dawes asked us to come and see you, as a favour to her. She was worried about you, but I’m glad to see you have a friend with you”.
Turning to look at at Claudia, then back at the policewoman, Anita sounded confused. “Worried about me? Jane? Why?” The male officer stepped forward.
“I take it you haven’t seen or heard any news recently, madam?” Reaching forward instinctively for the remote control, Anita shook her head as she pushed the button to turn on the TV. “No, I have just come from the hospital. Why? What’s going on?” Before he could reply, the rolling news channel was on the screen.
A serious-faced female presenter was talking against the background of a live feed from Australia. The headline bar across the bottom read ‘Qantas plane crashes after taking off from Sydney. Casualties unconfirmed but first reports suggest there were no survivors’.
Anita sank to her knees on the carpet, and Claudia rushed to wrap her arms around her friend. The policewoman spoke quickly. “It happened a short time ago, and reports are coming in. Jane said to tell you that she has no idea if your husband was on the aircraft, but she knew you might fear the worst, and wanted us to come round to see if you were okay”. Claudia looked up at her. “But we saw Mike interviewed last night, and he said the that he had a plane to catch. He would have flown out much earlier than that one. “The man looked at them as if trying to decide whether or not to say something. Then he did. “Michael Steeden is listed as one of the passengers on the flight manifest. Jane thought that if you heard that, you might assume that Mike was with him”.
Still on her knees, Anita waved a hand at him. “Can you just go now, please. Tell Jane thanks for me, I have my best friend here now, and she will stay with me”. They looked relieved to be leaving, muttering sympathetic goodbyes as Claudia showed them out. When she walked back in, Anita was on her mobile, trying Mick Steeden’s number. She looked up at her friend, whose face was a mask of concern. “Nothing. The line is dead, Claude”. Helping her up to stretch out on the sofa, Claudia did her best. “Just because Mick was listed on the flight doesn’t mean he was on it. And it certainly doesn’t mean Mike was flying with him. I’m going to make us both a cup of tea. Actually, I’m going to make you a cup of tea. I need something stronger”.
It was a big enough story to keep the news focusing on it for now. The presenter kept giving updates, then chatted to someone from Australia via Skype. By the time Claudia got back with the tea, and a huge glass of wine for herself, the woman on television was setting her best face for bad news. “It is now confirmed that there are no survivors from the Qantas flight that crashed in open countryside in New South Wales not far from Dubbo, earlier today. The airline confirms that there were three hundred and three people on board, including the aircrew. The cause of the crash is so far unknown, and you can call the following number for more information”. As the news switched to a fatal shooting in Nottingham, Claudia was already dialling the number.
“It’s a recorded message, Nita. Says they are busy with calls and will update the message when they know more. They are giving out a phone number in Australia. Shall I ring that?” Anita looked overwhelmed by sadness. “Leave it, Claude. Wait until the fuss dies down, and try again later”. In an effort to break the mood, Claudia suggested making some lunch. “I can’t face food, Claude. I might just have a lie down upstairs. But you have something. You might have to drive to the supermarket though, I doubt I have got anything in worth eating”. Grabbing her car keys and Anita’s door key, Claudia picked up her bag. “I will get some more milk too. Something for tonight as well. Anything you fancy, love?” Anita looked completely disinterested. “Just get something to chuck in the microwave”.
As she was putting the shopping away an hour later, Claudia heard the house phone ringing. But before she could get to it, it was answered on the bedroom extension. The wail from upstairs made her run up to the bedroom as fast as she could. Tears were streaming down Anita’s face, but she was smiling. She turned to look at her friend. “It’s Mike. He’s on the phone. He’s alive. He wasn’t on that plane!” Claudia kissed the top of her head, and left the room. She wanted to give them some privacy to talk.
Fifteen minutes later, Anita came down, wiping her eyes and nose with some tissues. As she sat on the sofa, Claudia couldn’t stop herself. “Well? For Christ’s sake, Nita, tell me what he said”. Anita rubbed her face with the palms of both hands. “Mick Steeden was on the plane that crashed, as far as Mike knows. He was flying to Dubai, to get back to his job there. But Mike took a flight much earlier, using a different airline, and flying to Amsterdam. He’s there now, at the airport. He is boarding a flight to London soon. That Indian reporter met them in Sydney, and he told her the full story. She will get it out all over India and the Far East. Then Mike will contact people here”. Claudia wasn’t satisfied.
But what about him going missing? Ian the detective, the money, his car being in Portsmouth, all that other stuff? Does he know about his parents? Anita nodded. Yeah, he knows about that, and Ian too. He said he will tell me everything when he gets back. He was mainly worried about me and the baby, and the fact that he will have to find another job now” Claude thought for a moment. “Have you got his flight number? We could drive to the airport in my car, and meet him off the Amsterdam flight”. Anita smiled. “Thanks, Claude, but he says not to bother. He will get the train, and a taxi from the station”.
She looked down at the baby bump, and stroked it lovingly.
“He said he will be home about six”.