Lady Julia went straight to the wine cupboard and poured three big glasses. Only Stepney's remarkable respect for her mother prevented her from shrieking at her to get on with it.
"A body has been found on the rocks on Whitesands." Lady Julia took a deep breath and Stepney's blood ran cold. "McLintock identified it by the clothing. That outfit was extremely expensive and wouldn't be bought, or worn by our usual people. I bought it as a gift for McLintock and he donated it to Rob. Bottle green Lawlim silk. There wasn't another one like it. I'm sorry." She tried her best to maintain her composure.
"No." Stepney shook her head. "I'm going to see him. I don't believe any of this." Stepney stood up.
"You can't see him child." Lady Julia steered her daughter back into her seat and knelt infront of her. "McLintock and Eamon are seeing to it and that's for the best."
"He was unrecognisable, you mean." Stepney started to cry and Fenton came and put his arm round her. "How? Don't just tell me to leave it to the men, mother, please. That won't do for me."
"He was aware of the unrest among the people, wasn't he?" Julia said gently. "We're all of the opinion that he's had enough and wanted to go home. I know first hand that blamed himself for disrupting our people, he said so on a few occasions."
"So he intended to swim there?" Stepney got to her feet. "Are you saying he waded into the sea and was forced back onto the rocks? With respect, mother, that's hogwash. Yes it is!" She sobbed. "I know you wouldn't insult me, or him, by suggesting he was trying to swim home, I know that. So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying he may have taken his own life Stepney!" Lady Julia said desperately. "Going home is a euphemism and you know it. No one escapes those currents or the Barrier and Rob would have known that. I'm so sorry, Stepney. His role ..."
"Sod his role! I love him mother! I know he was frustrated and disillusioned but he trusted me in my own realm. He was prepared to sit here and wait it out like the rest of us. There is no chance at all that he'd have ended his own life, not ever. Dinsen didn't bring him here only to have him do that. What would be the point? Also, if he sincerely and genuinely wanted to go home, to his original life, then why the sod didn't he ask me?" Lady Julia and Fenton looked at each other. "No one thought of that? I brought him here so wouldn't it make sense that I could return him if he wanted it?"
"It's true, that didn't occur to anyone so would it have occurred to Rob?" Julia steered Stepney back into her seat. "Stepney there is another explanation and it was the first one that occurred to me. The body was found on the rocks below The Den, below the cliff path." She said quietly. "An accident, Stepney. A tragic accident on a hazard that should have been secured years ago."
"Wh ... why was he on the path?" Stepney sobbed helplessly.
"To get away from all this madness for a while." Fenton spoke. "He couldn't go out into the city, Stepney, the place is chaotic. He couldn't return to the gardens because he thought we were still there. Cripps was in Rob's rooms and there are staff everywhere. He just maybe needed to be alone for a while. I doubt he purposely tackled that path, more strayed or stumbled onto it."
"I ... I have to go to him." Stepney stumbled to her feet. Fenton put his arms round his sister and she cried into his chest. "I should have left him on his own realm. I should have taken him back, Fenton. I was the only one who could have done that and I was too selfish and too obsessed to consider it. I have to go and beg forgiveness from Dinsen the Wise. I must atone for my own selfishness." She pulled away from Fenton and left the study. All Fenton and Lady Julia could do was watch her go.
"I'll go and look to verify some of this. Verify any of it. Verify something. Speculation won't be enough for Stepney once she's over the shock." Fenton left his mother and went to find Eamon and McLintock.
Jonathan Styles sat at his desk with the contents of Rob's plastic bag spread out infront of him. He was dumbfounded. The sketches were naturally brilliant. Rob Lancaster could always draw. That's what threw the pair of them together in the first place, back in their schooldays. Jonathan never imagined in a million years that his Junior Authors story would even interest Rob Lancaster, let alone inspire him to try it himself.
"Wow! Did he draw those?" Kate was there with a cup of coffee for Jon and was looking over his shoulder.
"Fantastic artist, he always was. I told you about that time I tried to blackmail him into doing my illustrations." Jon smiled. "Looks like I woke a budding junior author."
"Any good? The story I mean." Kate asked.
"It is because it's Rob's. You have to understand how hard this must have been for him. He wasn't a natural writer but he was a natural artist. It was all up here in his head, but he wanted to write it as well as draw it. Judging by the state of these notes, he must have been thumping away at this for ever. Big stubborn bugger."
"Maybe you could overhaul it a bit for him." Kate suggested.
"No that's not why he left it with me. I couldn't do it anyway. This is definitely Rob Lancaster through and through. It's littered with Millwall references. He liked his football." Jon smiled again and put the papers back in their bag. "I hope he's OK. It's not that we were ever close in school, we were as different as chalk and cheese and probably still are. It's just reading all this and knowing I actually made a difference to someone like this. The fact that he brought this here suggests I made quite an impression without realising it."
"He'll come back for them, Jon. This time you won't have to lose touch again."
"I'll put them in the safe. He'll bloody snotter me if I lose them."
Rob was in the hospital day room playing scrabble with a bloke called Jeff. The fact that half the tiles were missing didn't seem to bother Jeff, he simply drew the desired letter on the board itself. He'd been character free for four weeks now and the hospital ward was starting to get to him. Dr. Andrews had recommended hospital treatment and Rob had agreed of his own free will. It almost came to a bad end straight away when the psychiatrist, Dr. Penn, wouldn't have it that Rob didn't do drugs. It took many insistences and many tests for him to agree to what Rob had told him all along. Now he was on a job lot of tablets for depression and borderline psychosis. Rob looked at the board. Jeff had drawn a R on it and spelled GRR. He was the same when they all played Bingo! Writing the numbers in with Biro. Gwennie would have had him in the carpark for that.
"Well you beat me again, Jeff. Well done." Jeff looked delighted as he tipped all the letters back into the box. Rob wandered into the enclosed garden where all the smokers went. Even though it was raining there were still half a dozen of them out there. "How did it get to this eh Nan? What the hell went wrong with me? They'll even re-let my scummy bedsit if I'm stuck in here for too long. Speaking of scummy, notice how those three arseholes haven't even looked near? Maybe I should have told Jonty and his missus a bit more. They wanted to help me, Nan. Two strangers, one I've not seen for ten years and one I'd never even met. I wish you were here."
"Rob?" One of the nurses was by him. "Come on, you're getting soaked out here." Rob nodded and followed her indoors. "Dr. Penn has new medication for you."
"Oh? What's that for?" Rob wasn't really interested.
"It's basically a sleeping tablet. You'd be surprised at how much a bad sleeping pattern affects your health. It's just a short course then we tail it off. OK?"
"If you say so." Rob shrugged. As it happened, Rob hated the sleeping pill. It wasn't a real sleep he had but a fitful and agitated type stupor. He was absolutely shattered the following day and went to look for the Doctor.
"Rob. How are you feeling?" Dr. Penn smiled.
"Horrible. I don't like that sleeping pill at all. All it did was give me the jitters. Honestly, I slept better without it."
"What sort of jitters?"
"Oh nothing specific, just ... stuff. My old house with my Nan. Darts with Tommo. Just random crap bouncing about. The dodgy water pipes in the bedsit. The woman from the library. The bloke in the post off ... library!" Rob jumped to his feet. "The girl in the library!"
"She held meaning for you?" Dr. Penn made a few notes.
"Yes! She was called ... er ... look it doesn't matter. I told you I was tired. Can we leave out the sleeper? I really don't need it." Rob nodded.
"Fair enough. They are quite strong and they don't agree with everyone." Dr. Penn smiled and Rob hurried out of his office. Jean Docherty from the library! That was a blatant Rob name if ever he'd heard one. She'd just appeared and disappeared!
"Don't do this to yourself Rob." He sat on his bed and rubbed his eyes. "You did not invent her and she is not from Lawlim. She's probably from Salford or something. Stop it!" Rob stood up and rummaged in his jacket for loose change, then he had to wait for Terry to get off the trolley phone, even though he knew damn fine no one was on the other end of it. Eventually, Terry ran away toward tea trolley and Rob wheeled the phone into his room and plugged it in. The only brilliant thing about this hospital was it's lack of computer access for the patients. The phone trolley had a nice, big, fat directory attached to it with brown string.
"Rob!" Jonty exclaimed down the phone. "Good God it's been a month! Are you OK? Where are you?"
"I'm doing OK. Sort of. Listen Jonty I need a huge favour. I need you to go through that crap I left you. I don't mean the main thing of it, I mean the notes I scribbled down on tatty bits of paper."
"Yes of course. It's all down in the safe. What am I looking for?" Jonty wrote 'Rob's stuff' on his notepad and Kate went to get it.
"The name Jean Docherty and any references or information on it." Rob told him.
"Kate has it here. I'll have to get back to you, there's quite a bit of it."
"Bollocks." Rob swore. "I'm in hospital, Jonty." He heaved. "I'm on the payphone and the rotten thing doesn't accept incoming. I'll get some change together and call you tonight."
"Hospital? You're in hospital? Why the hell didn't you phone sooner? God you always were a ... knobhead. Which hospital? I'll bring your stuff in."
"No! Hell no don't do that, I'll be here forever." Rob ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm in the Moss unit, Jonty." He sighed. "You know? Loony Bin and all that crap."
"Yes I know it." Jonty said casually. Actually he was shocked and distressed that someone like Rob was sufferng with mental health problems, and he was dealing with it by himself. "I'll just bring anything relevant, not the whole hog."
"I appreciate it Jonty and I'm sorry for involving you in my crap." Rob said in dejection.
"Look, I offered my help and I meant it. Get over it."
"One more thing. Thanks for not asking." Rob hung up. "What are you doing Rob? You really are a bloody nutter and now you're dragging poor Jonty into your ravings."