Last chapter. Many thanks for all your reviews which I really appreciate.
In his dream he was a kid again, on the baseball pitch next to the big old warehouse in Queens. He'd never liked that pitch - it was full of broken glass and graffiti - but it was the only one in the neighbourhood. And there he was: Jimmy Dempsey, ten years old with scuffed knees and falling apart sneakers.
Everything was familiar: the glare of the sun in his eyes as he held the bat poised behind him; the brown, balding grass beneath his feet and the industrial smell from the laundry down the street, carried on the summer air. In front of him was Chris O' Grady, the biggest, meanest bully on the block. Chris began pitching at him low and fast, and he tried to hit it, but the ball kept smashing into his head instead, so hard that he felt like it was going to explode. Each blow knocked him to the ground and he had to pick himself up while the others jeered. After the sixth time the tears came and he couldn't stop them. It hurt so goddamn bad.
Chris taunted him. "Baby, baby, baby," he called. "You want your Momma, Jim?"
The others crowded around him, echoing Chris's words and he tried to get up and fight back but there were too many of them. After a while he didn't care anyway. His head throbbed and it was true, he wanted his mom. He called out for her, loudly enough that the boys around him began to retreat, alarmed. Chris's face loomed close. "Baby!" he crowed a final time, before turning away.
Dempsey awoke suddenly, and for long moments he was completely caught up in it: Chris, the pitch in Queens. It was as vivid as if his most recent visit had been last week instead of thirty years ago. A wave of nostalgia swept through him that was so strong it was almost painful. Also lingering was the strange, forgotten yearning for his mother. He was hurt and confused, with a sense of deep sadness.
He felt a cool hand on his forehead. Suddenly, he wasn't ten years old any more but a grown man; not in Queens, but in bed in a big old house in England. And the hand belonged to a woman who was looking into his eyes with love. Not his mother. Harry.
He knew his face was wet with tears, and he felt ashamed. "Sorry…" he began, but she shushed him, stroking his cheek.
"It's alright darling, you were dreaming. I'm here. I love you."
The words soothed him. The confusion and pain began to recede, and he became more aware of where he was. He freed his hand from the sheets and found her other one.
"God, such awful dreams. Like nothin' I've had in years."
"I know. I was asleep on the sofa outside and I heard you calling out. It's just the concussion."
"What happened? I can't remember."
"It was yesterday morning. I found my aunt and uncle outside in the old bomb shelter. They'd taken the jewellery. You followed me, and Porter – my father's manservant, he was in on it too – surprised you, hit you very hard. He was out of control, James. There was nothing you could do. Thankfully Giles helped me overpower him. Everything's alright."
She paused, and bent down to kiss him.
"I've been so worried about you. It's a relief to see you looking better."
It came back to him slowly. He remembered the dog, Jasper, and the underground place in the woods. Seeing Harry on the floor in the gloom and feeling pumped with adrenalin but in control. Then nothing.
He pushed himself upright, and she plumped the pillows behind me. Might as well accept the fact that I'm officially an invalid, he thought, letting her do it. Light was filtering through the drawn curtains.
"What time is it?" He asked. "What about work?"
"Don't worry, I've talked to Spikings. He knows what's happened and he isn't expecting to see either of us today. You've got to rest."
He leaned forward and put his arms around her, gingerly at first, then tighter. Finally, he held her away from him and cupped her face in his hands. She looked worn out, and there was a dark bruise on her temple.
He touched it lightly.
"Did they hit you too?"
"A bit – I'm alright. Daddy's fine too and that's all that matters. Oh, Esther broke an antique vase. It was priceless - such a loss - but still, only an object."
"You shoulda' woken me Harry. We needed to deal with it together," he said quietly.
"I know that now. I'm sorry. I was stupid."
"It ain't stupid angel, but we're partners. We work as a team. Things don't go so well when we don't."
"We are, aren't we?" she said, looking into his eyes. "I'm not going to forget it again."
They set off back to London in the afternoon and the horizon was clear as Harry steered the car down the drive. The roads were still icy, but it hadn't snowed for twenty-four hours. Dempsey turned his head to catch a last glimpse of Winfield Hall, imposing against the skyline. Then he looked ahead. He was looking forward to the moment when they crossed the West Way and he could feel they were home. London town, his home - who'd have believed it? He smiled to himself, thinking he would keep that sentiment from Harry for a while.
Lord Winfield had waved them off, the depth of his fondness almost overwhelming. On the steps, he enveloped Dempsey in a fierce hug. "Come back soon, my boy," he said, shaking his hand vigorously. "You're never a stranger here, don't forget that." Dempsey nodded, for once lost of words.
"You look after each other," he called, as they extricated themselves and walked down to the car. "I want to see you both fighting fit and back very soon."
Harry blushed. "Yes Daddy."
He looked upbeat, but Dempsey knew she was worried. He appeared to be on something of a high at the moment, perhaps euphoria at averting a serious crisis and the fact that they were all essentially unscathed. But she had confided that she thought it likely that he might 'crash' in later days, especially now they were leaving. Porter's actions, and those of Giles, would begin to hit home and might be painful for him to accept. She hugged him for a long time and kissed him on both cheeks before she got in the car.
"You take care Daddy, and don't forget what we said. Talk to Giles."
"I will, Harriet, I will," he smiled sadly. He had pleaded mitigating circumstances to the police, with the result that Giles had been released on bail and was staying with an old school friend in the neighbourhood. The others had been remanded in custody and there would be a hearing in ten days. They would all have to be there, to give evidence, and Harry was worried about the effect of that on Freddy, too. For his part, Dempsey couldn't wait to see Esther and that bastard Porter, get their just deserts.
"I still can't get over the betrayal," she said, as they drove through the countryside.
"Yes, him mainly. Porter, too though. Esther was just a bad egg. With family, somehow, it's worse."
"But your uncle saw the light eventually."
"Yes, he did. But to do it in the first place…" she trailed off, and sighed.
"Sometimes I think I'm a cynic because I'm mistrustful, but then something like this happens and it only confirms my worst fears."
He glanced over at her. "Is that how you feel about me?" he asked. "Is that why you didn't wake me?"
She turned and looked at him. "Oh James, no." she paused, searching for the words.
"I was just on autopilot. I suppose I've been self sufficient for so long; so used to relying only on myself. But everything's different now. I can't tell you how sorry I am."
He knew she meant it, but the hurt was still there. Would she ever completely trust him?
"You know," she said, "when I saw you come into the shelter – after what I'd just discovered about my own family – I realised something. I know I can trust you be there for me. It's a feeling that overrides every natural impulse I have, but it's the truth."
Between the seats, their hands met and clasped tightly.
He wanted to come home with her but she insisted on dropping him off at his place. He needed a peaceful night's rest she said, and she promised to come round first thing next morning. The doctor had signed him off work for a week, much to his chagrin. She went back to her own flat and fell into bed. It was barely 9pm, but her exhaustion was epic.
She woke in the small hours and reached for him. But he wasn't here; and then she remembered. In the dark, she was small and scared, nothing like her daytime self.
Suddenly, the telephone burst into life, harsh in the night's silence. After two rings, she picked it up.
Relief flooded through her.
"James, I…." I need you.
The words had only been spoken in her head, but he heard them.
"I'm on my way."