What if you suddenly had no choice but to open your eyes to the problems in your life, and the secrets that have been kept from you?
It was Leon’s birthday. We had to be at his mother’s house in half an hour for a special birthday lunch.
‘I’m forty-six years old,’ he’d said earlier that morning when we were lying in bed. ‘Why am I, a grown man, going to my mother’s house on my birthday?’
We bundled the children into the back of the car. It was mid-August and Liverpool was hot as hell.
‘Did you tell her we couldn’t stay long?’ asked Leon now. We were in the car. Leon turned the ignition. It was stifling hot but the air con took a while to kick in so we had the windows down.
‘She’s made a cake.’
‘Great,’ he said under his breath. Just as I became aware of a presence at the driver’s‑side door. It was Lawrence from the house opposite.
‘A word, if you don’t mind, Leon?’ Lawrence said.
I got out of the car and headed to the front door, avoiding eye contact with Lawrence. I didn’t do confrontation. And if I had the choice I let Leon fight our battles.
When I finally climbed into the passenger side and fastened my seatbelt, Leon was staring straight ahead, still with that hint of madness in his eyes that he got whenever he had to deal with Lawrence, so I said, ‘You’re not going to carry this on all day, are you?’
He didn’t reply.
‘You’re ignoring me now as well?’ I continued crossly.
‘What the hell did I do? It’s not like it’s my fault that Lawrence always—’
Without speaking, without checking his mirror, Leon stamped on the gas.
And the car flew backwards.
I cried out in terror. Cried out because my first thought was: Are the kids strapped in? Are they safe?
There was no time to check.
‘Leon!’ I shouted. ‘Leon, stop!’
But by now we were already stationary again. The car having smashed into Lawrence’s garden wall behind us.
Leon’s forehead was on the steering wheel and he was unresponsive.
The children began to cry.
'We've contacted the police because, well, to be frank, this looks like attempted murder'
On arrival at the hospital, once he’d been stabilized, they’d taken Leon straight to CT. The paramedic had mentioned surgery. Which was an innocuous enough word until you realized surgery to the head meant brain surgery.
The door opened and the four of us looked up expectantly. ‘Are you Mr Campbell’s family?’ A woman in a smart taupe-coloured suit approached. We told her that we were.
‘I’m Dr Letts,’ she began. ‘I’m one of the neurologists here. I’ve had the chance to examine each of Leon’s scans and so now we’re pretty clear on what we’re dealing with... it seems Leon has two fifty-millimetre nails lodged inside his brain.’
I wondered if she’d got the wrong family.
Wrong family. Wrong patient. Wrong scans.
‘How did they get in there?’’
‘I’ll be straight with you,’ said the neurologist. ‘It looks very much as though this is the result of a violent attack.’
And when each of us stayed silent, when each of us listened to her words and found they just didn’t quite make sense, she said, ‘It seems to me as if it was done intentionally.’
‘He was shot with a nail gun,’ Dr Letts explained.
‘We’ve contacted the police because, well, to be frank, this looks like attempted murder.’
‘Attempted murder?’ I said, and the neurologist nodded her head gravely. ‘Murder?’ I repeated. ‘Who would want to murder Leon? No one would want to murder Leon. Are you sure you have this right?’
‘It’s important to stress that we can’t be completely sure of anything right now,’ said Dr Letts. ‘But we have notified the police. And unless Leon was working with a nail gun at the time, which, from what I understand. . . ?’ She looked at me.
‘Then I’m afraid everything points to him being the victim of an intentional attack,’ she said. ‘I’m very sorry. It’s a shock to hear, I know.’
‘Will you remove the nails?’
‘We will. This afternoon if possible.’
‘Will it be you who does the operation?’
‘I don’t perform surgery. It will be one of my colleagues, most likely Mr Jorgensen. He’s the one who leads the neurosurgical team here.’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Leon isn’t the kind of person who . . . Leon doesn’t have enemies. This isn’t something that happens to a person like Leon. And we don’t live in an area that . . . You’re telling me he was really shot? On purpose? In the head?’
I felt as if my blood was draining from me.
‘All I can tell you’, she said, ‘is that we will do our very best to treat Leon and help him recover.’
Dr Letts was calm. Softly spoken. She had small pearl earrings that fitted neatly against her skin and she wore a layer of barely-there make‑up. We knew we were in the presence of someone exceptionally clever, someone with great authority, and that seemed to make us go against our instincts. We should have been screaming. I felt as though I wanted to tear my skin off, and yet I sat there listening to what she had to say, my manner remaining composed.
‘I think the police will have more information for you when they arrive,’ she said. ‘Maybe they’ll be able to shed some light on things. In the meantime, I know you have a lot of questions. And I’ll do my very best to answer them. But I’ll be honest with you: I’m not going to be able to give you definitive answers at this early stage. It’s going to be a difficult time and we’ll keep you informed at every step. But right now we just don’t know what the outcome will be.’
‘Outcome?’ I asked. ‘You mean you don’t know if Leon will actually survive this operation?’
Dr Letts smiled sympathetically. ‘Mr Jorgensen will talk to you in more detail. But as with any operation there are risks. And it goes without saying that any surgery to the brain comes with significant risks. But we wouldn’t be attempting this procedure without the belief that it’s absolutely necessary. The foreign bodies must be removed from inside the brain if Leon’s to stand any chance of recovery.’
‘The nails can’t stay in there?’ I asked.
‘But why didn’t I see them? I don’t understand. I was with Leon when this happened. Why didn’t I see the nails in the side of his head? It doesn’t make any sense to me.’
‘Perhaps because they were the last thing you were expecting to see,’ she suggested. ‘And also, the heads of the nails used in nail guns are relatively small in diameter. You’re maybe imagining the size of a drawing pin. Well, these are actually much smaller than that and . . .’
She paused, checking each our faces before continuing. ‘. . . they’re currently sitting just beneath the surface of the skin.’
So they were really in there. Those nails had gone right into Leon’s brain.
I tried to remember the accident. Did Leon have blood coming from above his right ear? It was certainly possible. But I’d been sitting to the left of him, and by the time I was out of the car I was pretty much hysterical, trying to get the kids out, trying to keep people away from Leon. I wasn’t the one who called for an ambulance. I wasn’t sure who had.
Doctor Letts made to stand. ‘For now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to be getting back. I’ll bring you more news as I have it,’ and when she left it was as if she took all the air out of the room with her.
Suddenly I needed to escape. Blood was thrashing around my body making my head woozy. I was hot and clammy and the muscles of my throat were constricting. Someone had meant to do this to Leon. Someone had shot him in the head and had actually wanted him to die. Perhaps they’d even hung around for a moment waiting for him to die.
And they’d shot him in front of his children. His own children.
More about the book
Haven’t we all wanted to pretend everything is fine?
Jane doesn’t like confrontation. Given the choice, she’ll let her husband, Leon, fight their battles. She’d prefer to focus on what’s going well, the good things in life.
But when bestselling crime author Leon is brutally attacked in the driveway of their home, in front of their two young children, Jane has to face reality. With her husband in a coma, Jane must open her eyes to the problems in her life, and the secrets that have been kept from her, if she’s to find out who hurt her husband – and why.
Maybe it’s time to face up to it all. Who knows what you might find . . .
PRAISE FOR PAULA DALY:
‘The UK’s answer to Liane Moriarty. Amazing.’ Claire McGowan
‘Thoroughly enjoyable – a big-hearted, empathetic novel about ordinary lives and the tremors that can rock them.’ Guardian
‘Kept me guessing right until the end. I devoured it.’ Claire Douglas
‘Deliciously dark and addictive. I defy anyone starts it not to race through the pages until they reach the final, brilliant twist.’ Colette McBeth
‘She writes with a singular voice and a fierce passion that roars off the page.’ Daily Mail