“Is this John Shannon?” Cameron asked.
“Aye, John Shannon speaking.”
“Mr Shannon, do you live in 63 Full Moon Crescent in Melbourne, Australia?”
“Aye, that’s me. Who’s this?”
“Mr Shannon, I have some bad news.”
“Bad news?” came the predictable echo. At once confusion and apprehension entered the man’s voice, heightened by a momentary lag on the line.
“My name is Doctor Robert Ozan,” Cameron said. “I’m calling from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados.”
“Yes, Mr Shannon.” Uncomfortable pause. “Your wife Belinda Shannon has met with an accident.”
“Oh my God.”
“Are you sitting down?”
“Uh, no,” came the uncertain reply.
“I have to ask you to sit down for this, Mr Shannon,” Cameron said solemnly.
He could hear the man quaking on the other end. “I, uh… okay,” John Shannon wheezed. “I’m in the garden,” he heaved. “I’m heading indoors right now.”
An awkward minute passed as Shannon grunted and cursed and heaved on the other end of the line. Cameron could hear him exerting himself horribly as he crashed up a flight of stairs, and through a set of swinging ranch doors.
“Yes?” Shannon shouted out eventually, breathless. “I’m here, sitting down.” There was a palpable sense of panic in his voice.
“Well, Mr Shannon,” Cameron said, “I’m afraid the news is as bad as it can be. Your wife had an accident – on a Jetski, here in Barbados. It happened at 4pm yesterday afternoon. It was a freak, unforeseeable event. She collided with a boat while she was looking the other way.” Pause. “She could not have prepared herself for it. It hit her like a freight train moving with unstoppable force.” Pause. “Are you still there?”
“Yes, Christ, of course.”
“I’m afraid she required urgent surgery, Mr Shannon. This morning, we had to make the decision to operate. The procedure had a 50-50 chance of success, but not operating would have meant losing her during the night.”
“Oh my God.”
“I’m sorry to say – your wife didn’t make it.”
“Oh my God. Oh my god. Oh my god.”
“I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry.”
On the other side of the line, a great crescendo of silence was building. Cameron could hear it rising in pitch, becoming more hysterical in its intensity. There’s nothing as frenetic as sheer silence. From where he sat, Cameron thought he could hear John Shannon’s heart imploding.
“There’s one more thing, Mr Shannon.”
“Yes?” John Shannon croaked despairingly.
“Before she passed away, your wife said…well, she said…”
“She said what? What? What?” Shannon yelped.
“She said she forgave you.”
“I see,” Shannon wheezed. “She forgave me,” he echoed flatly, as if he could not quite comprehend the words.
“She didn’t say what for,” Cameron said gently. He waited just a moment before saying: “I get the feeling that maybe you know.”
“I will leave you to come to terms with this, uh, terrible tragedy. Again, Mr Shannon, I’m so very–”
The phone went dead.
Cameron sighed, and put down his handset. It was never easy having to make calls like this, but it had to be done. And, unfortunately, of all the people in Good Grief Incorporated only he had enough ice running through his veins to be able to do it without faltering.
He fumbled on his desk for his packet of chewing gum, and sat there, staring into the middle distance. He’d have to phone Shannon back eventually, of course.
How long should he wait?
There was no fixed time in these matters – at least, nothing in the company guidelines. It was all down to his professional intuition. It all depended on how badly the recipient had taken the news. One didn’t want to leave it too long – not if the person seemed likely to do something stupid, like swallow a bottle of pills.
John Shannon definitely seemed like the type to do something dumb. He could picture the bereaved husband already stumbling over to his liquor cabinet, reeling with the sheer enormity of the news he’d just received.
A day would be more than enough for John Shannon. A day would give him all the time he needed to renew his perspective on life, and contemplate just how lucky and blessed he had once been.
What a pity people could simply not appreciate exactly what they had before they lost it. What a pity people became insensate – incapable of seeing things that were right in front of them. What a pity it always took a dramatic change in circumstance for people to see that life is too short to be mean and vain and selfish.
Would the experience change Shannon?
But for one day John Shannon would be consumed with sincere regret for all the things he had done, and had not done. For one whole day John Shannon would be the best version of John Shannon that he could be. And even if he reverted to type, for one whole day he would be in direct communion with the angels of his better nature. And that, at least, was something.
Cameron picked up the phone and pressed a number on his speed dial.
“Yes?” A woman answered.
“Belinda, please don’t leave your room for a day or two. Don’t phone any family, or friends. Just watch a little television, or read a good book. Just lie low until I give the all clear.”
“Our invoice is on the way, disguised as manicure treatment. No one will ever trace this back to you. It will be over before you know it.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Cameron sighed as he put down the phone. Sometimes it took the devil to the Lord’s work. He sat there for a while, just chewing gum, before making another call.
“Hello, is this Mr Francis Key?”
“Mr Key, my name is Doctor Robert Ozan.” He paused. “Are you sitting down?”