“Sam!” Cat screamed. “Oh God, no, no. SAAAAM.”
She tried to push forward but a wall of people was pushing her back and she almost fell over Hannah and they were forced to go the way they were going, to get out of the way of the falling debris. “My son’s in there, I have to get to my son. Oh God, please let me get back. Sam …” Someone was grabbing her arm and pulling her side ways and then she was pushed against the merry-go-round and a girl in a bright pink quilted jacket was pressed up to her so that the quilting was in her face, she could smell the shiny oily fabric. The fairground noise was dying down. The music was stopping, as the loudspeakers were switched off one by one, and then the generators began to fade, and after a while the only sounds were of the still-cracking, crushed ghost-train building and of human voices, shouting, calling, barking orders from somewhere behind. And screaming. Screaming.
Serrailler, pushing through the crowd and shouting “POLICE’, reached the fallen ride at the same time as a dozen other officers and St John Ambulance paramedics. Sirens were now sounding in the distance.
The smell of burning and dust and oil was acrid, the whole structure had toppled in on itself so that it was impossible to tell what had come down, what had been beneath. Fairground workers were already hauling at great beams and crippled girders and dragging them away, while uniform took over crowd control and also began to rummage in the broken mountain for trapped bodies.
Simon’s mobile rang as he was clambering onto part of the broken carriage runway.
“Simon, Jesus, where are you? Sam was on the ride, Sam—”
“OK, I’m up there now. Where are you?”
“I don’t know, on the other side, by a stall, I’m up against a stall, we’re all pushed together—”
“Stay exactly where you are. Don’t move. There are a lot of us here and everything is on its way. Stay there, Cat.”
He clambered over the rigging and canvas, a couple of armed response men behind him. There were shouts and cries from all around them, from underneath, from inside.
“Watch out, guv, it isn’t stable, watch where you’re putting your weight.”
“Wait for the fire crews. Listen, there’s someone just here, Paul, shove this plastic sheet out of the way, hold me steady.” Clive Rowley balanced on a broken piece of rail at an angle.
“Shut up. Listen.”
They stood in the small pocket of silence they had constructed out of the noise crazy all round them.
“Left, to your left and then down, Clive.”
“Hold this steady.”
“Watch yourself. You need an axe.”
“Haven’t got a fu**ing axe. Hang on. Hold it steady, will you?”
He squatted and began to rip the plastic sheeting apart. It came away easily in his hands, revealing a cavern of black twisted metal, with a wheel broken off and sticking up into the air. Below it, someone was crying softly in pain and fear. He put his foot forward. Beside him, Paul C held the girder fast.
Clive reached his hand and then his arm into the dark space beneath him and felt around.
“Hello. Where are you? I’m Clive, I’m a police officer. Can you hear me?”
The moaning went on without a pause but it was near, almost at his feet.
He got down on his knees, testing the surface cautiously, then inched along and put his head to the hole.
“Can you hear me?”
“Help me, help me.”
“Gotcha. OK, we’ll have you out of there in a minute. I’m reaching my arm down. Can you lift a hand up?”
“Try lifting a hand and feeling round for mine.” He half turned his head. “Get a torch, can you? I need to see in here.”
The sirens were in the square now, vehicle after vehicle turning in and stopping, the flashing lamps still going. Firemen, ladders, lights, hoses.
“Get me a torch.”
A torch was in his hand from somewhere behind.
“Steady, watch that wooden platform on your left, Clive, duck down. It’s moving.”
There was a creak and a splintering sound but Clive held steady and the girder did not move. He waited. He felt round again in the blackness and then managed to get the torch in but all he saw was a mess.
“Can you still hear me?”
“Reach your hand up.”
He wiped the sweat off his face.
“I’m still here. I’m Clive. Can you hear me?”
From below, someone shouted and a woman was screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God. Oh Jason, oh my God.”
Then, without warning, Clive felt something touch his hand and move an inch up to his wrist and, for a second or two, grip.
Gradually, arc lights began to come on and now the ladders were being run up the fallen stands, one after another. A child was crying in the blackness deep down under the broken girders.
“I’m Clive,” he said. “Can you reach my hand again?”
After a moment, he felt his wrist gripped weakly. He crawled forwards cautiously an inch or two, set the torch down and reached both his arms into the hole.
“Grip,” he said. “Grip hard and hold on. Can you move?” He thought the voice was a woman’s. “Are your legs free?” A groan of pain but then a movement and a sudden cracking sound. “Be careful. Slowly, do it slowly. Can you move your legs?”
He felt the grip tighten on his wrists. He held fast. Someone had his legs behind and there was a ladder beside him.
“You can do it,” he said into the hole. “You’re nearly there. Just try and free your legs very carefully. Do your legs hurt?”
He could not make out the words. Sweat dripped from his face onto his hands and onto the hands that were gripping his wrists. A beam shone and caught the black hole and held it and in its vivid white light he saw the tangled wreckage, the wheel, and the woman’s hands on his wrists. Further down, he could see a green jacket. Dark hair. Her legs, one free, the other angled out of sight. His wrists were burning and his back felt as if someone were pressing a weight of cement onto it but gradually, very gradually, he began to move the woman up out of the dark pit, painfully slowly. Then, other arms reached out and took the strain with him.
“Don’t pull too hard, her left leg isn’t free. Watch it, watch it.”
But after hours of the night and another lifetime beyond those, her head and then her shoulders were up and into the cool air and the brilliant arc light and someone was cutting away the metal and wood below to free her left leg.
“Clive,” she said faintly.
“That’s me. Nearly there. Be out of it any second.”
“Leg’s free, leg’s clear. Be careful, she may have a broken ankle there.” The noise of cutting stopped, though they could hear it going on all around them, above them, below them, as the firemen worked on the wreckage.
“God, it hurts. God.”
“You’re doing brilliant. You’re doing great. Come on.”
“Clive? You’re Clive? Oh God, thank you.”
She was pulled up, gently and slowly, by the others behind them, onto a flat section of the wooden stand. The letters “GHOU” were painted on the wood in white and blood red.
“You’re OK,” Clive said. “It’s over.”
“You’re Clive?” She was dazed.
“Yup. Who are you, love?”
“Helen,” she said.
“This is Radio Bevham. We’re interrupting the late-night phone-in for some breaking news on a major accident at Lafferton’s Jug Fair. One of the rides is reported to have collapsed and there are a large number of casualties. We don’t know yet how many or the degree of seriousness. Emergency services from three counties are on the scene, and speaking from there is our reporter Cathy Miles.
“Cathy, I gather you were actually at the site of the accident this evening, is that right?”
“Hi, David, yes, that’s right. I live just outside Lafferton and I was at the Jug Fair which occupies the whole of the area around the cathedral …”
Simon switched off the car radio and for a moment or two sat in the dark car. He took several deep breaths in and slowly out and felt the tension flow from him. It had been an alarming and exhausting night but as always in a major incident the adrenaline had kept him, kept all of them, at peak performance, hyped up and working as a team. He had driven from the scene of the accident straight to the hospital where Sam and Judith Connolly had been taken. Cat had gone in the ambulance with Hannah but had sent Simon a text soon afterwards to say that Sam was fine, only badly bruised on his shoulders—the falling platform had missed his head by millimetres. Judith had a broken leg and was in shock. By the time Simon had arrived Sam was ready to be discharged. Judith was being kept in overnight. He had taken his sister and the kids back to Hallam House before returning to the accident, by which time Paula Devenish was on the scene. Now, six bodies had been brought out of the rubble but it was thought unlikely there were more, though the search would continue. The injured had been ferried off in ambulances, the press briefed several times.
Just before he came away, the Chief had found him again. “I don’t know which is worse,” she had said wearily, “this or the shooting we dreaded.”
“Accident or design? On balance I’d rather deal with an accident but …”
“But we would rather have neither. Of course. Do you think there was going to be a shooting, Simon? Was he here and was he going to cause mayhem, only the collapse of the ghost train got in the way?”
“I’d put money on his not being here. He’d never have taken the risk.”
“Does your bet hold for this blasted wedding?”
Simon had wiped his face with his sleeve and the sleeve came away filthy with the dust and dirt that had been released into the air by the crash. From the moment of the collapse until now, he had not given a thought to the gunman. Where had he been tonight? Among them, watching, waiting, looking for his opportunity, or miles away? It was a terrible game and they were only distracted now because of a random catastrophe.
“I don’t know,” he said at last. “But probably. He doesn’t take risks beyond a certain point. He isn’t a chancer, he calculates.”
“He could be calculating this one.”
“He could. We’ve got to make sure he decides the risk isn’t worthwhile, or if he takes it, that we have him.”
“I’m going to make a fuss … press conference pointing out how secure this wedding is going to be, massive armed police presence and so on.”
“Good.” He had looked across at a fireman, poised on a girder. “One of our armed officers deserves a medal,” he said.
“Clive Rowley? Yes, I heard. He wasn’t supposed to pre-empt the fire service of course, he might have made matters worse.”
“You’re not serious, ma’am? AR are not trained to clamber about trying to drag people out of debris? Health and Safety? Oh please.”
The Chief raised her eyebrows. “Officially, Superintendent, officially.”
He felt all the energy and control begin to drain out of him.
“Go home, Simon. You’ve done as much as you can here. Leave them to it.”
“Are you safe to drive?”
He gestured in the direction of the close. He had left his car in front of the flat after returning from Bevham General. The Chief walked with him to the cathedral side of the square where her own driver was waiting. Around them, the teams of firemen were still working, taking the collapsed ride apart piece by piece, clambering on ladders laid flat and occasionally calling down through the debris and then listening intently. The area had been cleared but a few people waited outside the police tape, close to the battery of press vans.
“I’m glad your own family were found so quickly, Simon. Some of these are going to be waiting for the rest of the night and into tomorrow. Have there been many calls reporting people still missing?”
“Not as many as you might expect. They’ve got a lot of people out now.”
“Get some sleep. I’m giving a press conference at nine, come in for that.”
Simon nodded. He saw her into her car before walking off towards the close.
Once he had left the range of the arc lights he had looked up and seen that the sky was clear and star-filled with a thin paring of moon over the cathedral tower. It was only when he reached his car that he realised that there was also a frost and he was very cold. He wondered whether to go straight inside, call Hallam House and then go to bed. But he would be flat out all the following day and almost certainly into overtime for the rest of the week. He needed to see them now, no matter what time it was.
His father and Cat were sitting at the kitchen table, teapot and cups in front of them. Sam was stretched out on his mother’s lap with his legs and feet on the chair beside her. He sat up as Simon came in.
“Do you know how many people are dead? Judith might easily be dead and so might I, it was a lucky escape. The fireman said it didn’t have my number on it.”
Simon sat down next to Cat and put his hand on her arm. “You should be in bed. Are you staying here?”
“Yes. Chris is asleep. I’ve made the beds up.”
“Do you propose to stay here as well?” Richard Serrailler said. “If so you could probably do with a whisky.”
Simon hesitated. There was his old room, though he had last slept in it after one of his mother’s choral society suppers at which he had been roped in to help.
“You’ve absolutely scootly got to stay,” Sam said. “We can discuss how the ride collapsed, I’ve been thinking about it—you see, probably what started it was—”
“Sam, can we do this later?”
“OK, when? It’s very interesting actually, how buildings and things sometimes do just collapse. Occasionally it’s a structural defect but it can be an earth tremor. Do you think there was an earth tremor?”
“It’s a possibility but I haven’t had anything like that confirmed, Sambo.”
“It would be on the Internet, there’s a very good seismological website, we could look it up.”
“We could, but not now. I’m going to have a drink with your grandfather and what I really need is for you to encourage your mother to get to bed. She’s had a bit of a shock, you know.”
“Right. I understand. Shock can be delayed, did you know that? In older people anyway. Mum, I think you might have shock and need to get some sleep now. When people have had a shock they need rest—I expect even I might need a bit, my arm’s started to hurt again.”