Nancy’s thoughts did a little stutter before her index finger depressed the letters, MILLIE. She ended with the hash key. The screen asked her to repeat the password. Shards of glass scoured at her ribcage as she did so. She adopted a smooth tone. ‘I’m done now, Henry,’ she said and deposited the thing on the tabletop before him. Henry’s square hands engulfed the device. He turned for the surveillance room once more.
Nancy sensed a pivotal moment approaching. She could back out now and return to her world with little consequences.
Now was the time.
Electronic bleeps resounded from the surveillance room. Nancy’s stomach lurched. She could not go back. There was nothing to go back to. Sheila’s house had become the dark side of the train station. Sheila would do what she wanted with her denial and Nancy would allow her mother to morph into a wheelchair-bound parasite of the national state. Nancy found her knuckles trembling with rage.
The clink of keys duetted with three short pulses. The reinforced steel lid snapped shut. The keys engaged, another bleep and Henry’s soles squeaked. Sheila’s rusty splinters had been overlooked, it seemed. The pivotal moment had passed.
Henry re-emerged and offered the device. ‘Done.’
The shards of glass kept scouring. She stood, taking the device.
Henry pushed his fingertips in his jeans pocket. ‘Mr. Jonas is not taking visitors until ten am tomorrow and not after four, so the gates won’t respond even if you point the device. Some physios from the clinic are expected in the afternoon. I won’t be here, but Naomi or Judith will let you in.’
Nancy suppressed another quaver in her breath. ‘Thank you, Henry. I think I’ve imposed upon you enough for one day.’ Nancy tried to temper her initial judgment of him. She placed the device into the front pouch of her bag alongside E1, E2 and F3. ‘I’d best get on.’ She lifted the strap. ‘I still have some work to do on Mr. Jonas’ room before he gets back from London.’
Henry’s brows pulled together. ‘Oh.’ His expression skirted that distilled glower of earlier. ‘I’ve come to the end of my shift now.’
Nancy offered her most ingenuous smile. ‘I’m sorry, Henry, I didn’t realise I’d kept you. I’ll let myself out once I have discussed the finer points with Mr. Jonas.’
‘I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that, Nora. Whilst Amy is away, it is my job to ensure all guests have left the building before locking up and deactivating the gates.’
Nancy flexed her fingers to ease the trembling. ‘It has already been arranged that I see Mr. Jonas before he goes to bed this evening. I have made some vital changes to his room, including the location of his pills.’
Henry’s moist lips pulled mulishly inwards. ‘Well, that put me in a difficult position.’
I suppose I could call early tomorrow and hope he comes to no grief in the night, but it goes against my principles.’
‘As I’ve said before, Mr. Jonas will be accepting no visitors until after ten am.’
Nancy’s smile was feeling more plastic. ‘Fair enough, Henry.’ She stepped from the table. ‘Well, I’m rather looking forward to using my new gadget on the gates. I’ll call by tomorrow after ten. Have a good evening.’
Henry appeared distracted. ‘Yeah, sure.’
Nancy made a track for the door leading the meeting room. Her boots echoed over the terracotta tiles, now lit with wall lamps and a glimmer in the hearth. The foyer, possessing Tudor overtones, looked brooding this late in the day. Nancy pushed the lever of Vince’s mighty door and exited the building. Infrared cameras would be tracking Nancy’s route up the gravel drive. She fished out her device, grateful the floodlights enabled her to see. Soon after, the system would be expecting Nora Clements’ device to active the gates prior to her passage. Henry would then switch the gates to override for the night. She lifted her keypad, readying her index finger for the password.
Crunching footfalls closed in from behind. ‘Wait.’
The building’s floodlights leached into Henry’s silhouette, causing her to squint. ‘Look, I really shouldn’t be doing this.’ He sounded edgy. ‘And anyway, it’s not as if you could take anything...’ He shrugged. ‘All of Mr. Jonas’ effects are tagged. Nothing can possibly get past those gates.’
‘You don’t have to do this, Henry.’
‘Mr. Jonas does not accept telephone calls during his business trips but I can text him; let him know that you’ll be here when he arrives.’
Nancy’s smile resurfaced. ‘Thank you, Henry.’
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