Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 5 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 1

Jack Howells held his almost empty mug of tea close to his chest. John had barely touched his, a film of skin formed across the cooled surface. Draining the dregs of his tea, Jack watched through his office window as the fire tender crew picked their way through the damaged area, slightly hindered by the gathering employees now unable to work. He turned back to the quietly shaking mechanic, wondering how he had ended up discussing the memory of an old, bad dream with a man that wasn’t even involved in the accident. No doubt, thought Jack, the Health and Safety Executive representative would be on site soon and Jack would be needed to supply some of the answers to his inevitable questions. Hopefully, he also wondered, the company medic would arrive back soon and take John off his hands. He felt he needed to break the silence.
‘And this was a dream?’ John shook his head slowly.
‘No. This happened. I do dream, sure, but it’s a memory. Sometimes the dreams change it, but when I wake up I remember it exactly as I just told you. I always remember. I don’t usually remember the names and the ordinary history, but I remember the deaths. I remember today’s accident when it was my fault.’
‘You weren’t there, John. We know that.’
‘I was there last time it happened, two years ago. I’ve tried to stop it happening, I told you about the safety valves last year, when you took over from Jenks.’
Jack remembered the conversation well. John had buttonholed him on the steam room floor, had talked at length about the need for a backup to the pressure relief system. Jack had looked into it, had it overhauled a month ahead of its scheduled maintenance, but hadn’t felt the need to include a backup. John had been concerned that the relief valve could fail when a couple of the stop cocks were closed, causing a massive build up of pressure in the number two tank. Theoretically it was possible, however the combination of both stop cocks being closed at the same time as a relief valve failure was deemed remote, and it was recognised that if either of the cocks were in the normal position at the time of such a valve failure then the designed-in secondary relief mechanisms would intervene. Today was the first recorded major accident at the plant since it had been commissioned five years earlier.
‘When what happened, two years ago?’
‘When the boiler blew. It took me and two others out with it. That was the last time I…’ There was a knock at the door and the company medic entered, her hair trailing impatiently down her forehead.
‘I was told to call here.’ Jack put his mug down, asked John to stay where he was and steered the young medic out of the office, gently nudging her arm by the elbow. Once outside of the office he closed the door and spoke quietly to her.
‘John Staples, the guy in there. He turned up for the midday maintenance shift about forty minutes after the accident - you had gone off in the ambulance by then - he seems to be in shock, and he’s rambling on as though he was in some way responsible for the accident - well, perhaps that’s not exactly what he’s saying.’ Jack fumbled for words to explain what he had heard and witnessed. He wasn’t a person comfortable with other people’s emotions, and he wasn’t sure he had understood a fraction of what John Staples had said. He understood that the man was traumatised by the events of the afternoon, the whole factory was to some degree, but this was subtly different, well beyond his ability to help.
‘He didn’t look too good. I’ll take him in, the infirmary has a counsellor on call, she’ll be there to help with situations like this. If he’s had anything to do with the maintenance of the thing that blew up he may be feeling responsible, may be suffering a form of post traumatic shock. He’ll be gone for the rest of the day, though, it’s chaos in that hospital this afternoon.’
Jack acknowledged he was prepared to accept the loss of John, the man clearly wasn’t going to be of much use that afternoon anyway, and re-entered the office to address the mechanic.
‘John, the medic, er?’
‘Helen,’ helped the medic.
‘Helen is going to take you to hospital to be checked out.’
‘I’m not injured.’
‘You’re in shock, though,’ Helen interjected. ‘You don’t have to have experienced physical damage to suffer. There’ll be someone there to look at you and to talk this through with you.’
‘Will I be long?’ John’s face showed a degree of personal concern that had been absent. Helen confirmed that the process could be long winded, but urged him to go along, for his own sake. John fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a key fob containing a large cluster of keys. Threading each key through his fingers in turn he located a specific key which he laboriously removed from the fob, eventually offering it to Jack.
‘Could you feed my cat, Mr Howells?’ John asked as he handed the key over, explaining that he had forgotten to leave the cat’s food out before he left for work, giving his address. Jack agreed, mainly to get the man out of his office. As Jack wrote down the address, John seemed to have an idea.
‘While you’re there, look in the bookcase in the living room. I’ve got a notebook in there that I’ve been using as a journal. It’ll explain about the last time, the first entry in the book. I started it as soon as I realised what had happened.’
Jack looked up and nodded. He felt it was probably better to humour this man than to try and clarify.
‘Do you have another key?’
‘My next door neighbour does, but she wouldn’t let you have it, that’s why I’ve given you mine.’ Jack nodded and, after agreeing to push John’s key back through his letter box once he had finished feeding the cat, he carefully escorted John and Helen to his door. John’s demeanour had diminished again, retreating back into his solemn shell. Helen cast a concerned look across at Jack, which he put down to maternal instincts. Involuntarily he felt the need to reassure both Helen and her charge.
‘It’ll all be okay, just get yourself off to hospital, I’ll spin by the house about six o’clock.’ As Jack closed the office door behind them the phone started to ring, heralding the beginning of a very busy afternoon.

Chapter 2 will be posted Monday 8th October

Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011

The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence.  All rights reserved

Parallel Lives is published in paperback and as an eBook

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