Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 12

As Jack was joining the M5 northwards, John was settling down in his house, having finally made his way home. Making a cup of tea he considered the tablets prescribed carefully, turning the plastic container round and round in his hand. Although he felt weary – dog beat he told himself – he felt that the tablets were causing more problems than they were solving. He watched some afternoon TV, and managed to make and eat a simple sandwich by early evening. It was about eight o’ clock by the time he fell into the bedclothes, dragging them around his aching frame. Despite his tiredness he found that sleep wouldn’t come to him, instead he was haunted by daydreams where Karen watched the accident at the works time after time. Eventually he arose, at about eleven, and succumbed to the tablets downstairs on the kitchen table. Ten minutes later he was in a fast, dreamless sleep.
Arriving back at the house Jack was greeted by a note explaining in general terms that Karen and the kids had gone to her parents’ home for some tea. When he phoned to speak he found out about the stranger who had visited, how Karen’s father had felt it better that they get away from the house for the afternoon and that they were all about to settle down in front of the television to watch a block-busting film with a take-away meal. Karen was generally dismissive of Jack’s concern about the stranger, she had had several hours to rationalise the events and had come to the opinion that she had over-reacted. She was, however, less than enthusiastic that Jack intended to go to the pub that night and terminated the call more quickly than Jack would have expected. Foregoing the delights of the fridge and freezer, Jack decided to call in at the local fish and chip shop on his way to the pub, having decided to walk there. It had been his intention to drive, have at most one pint of bitter and then return. The terseness of Karen’s conversation at the end of the phone call coupled with the frustration of his wasted day had convinced Jack to reconsider that strategy. Picking up the notebook he had removed from John’s house, he donned his coat once more and headed out of the house for warm grease and cooler beer.
Alan Parkinson was at the bar when Jack walked in, standing talking to two young girls, his eyes roving freely over their slightly clad bodies. The girls were, Jack guessed, humouring him and probably enjoying a free drink before they proceeded onto the clubs and bars in central Manchester. Alan swigged the remainder of his beer down swiftly as he spotted Jack, expansively ordering a top up and indicating that Jack and the two girls could have a drink on him. The girls declined, Jack decided, in part because there were now two old farts trying to chat them up. They had exchanged looks that were indecipherable, but were clearly a message that each other understood. As they left the bar, Alan remarked:
‘You must be the kiss of death, Jack. I rather fancied my chances with the blonde.’ Jack snorted, picking up a freshly poured pint.
‘I think you stood a good chance of being fleeced for drinks. Don’t look so hurt, they could’ve been your daughters. I think they left in case you and I decided this was a date.’ Alan laughed before swallowing a fair sized draught of his beer.
‘You’re probably right. Still, I enjoyed their company while I was waiting.’ Alan looked around the bar, eventually nodding in the direction of a small, round table in the corner of the room. ‘Want to sit over there?’ he asked. As the two men sat down, Jack put the notebook carefully onto the table, having extracted it from inside his coat pocket as they walked across the bar. Alan clearly held no significance for the tattered book, reasonably enough in Jack’s opinion. Instead he pitched in with sentences punctuated by sizeable gulps of beer.
‘I never got in touch with that Staples fellow, Jack. No answer to his phone or his door. He might be on sick leave, but he doesn’t seem to be spending it at home.’
‘Unless he was in bed?’ suggested Jack, noting that Alan was already halfway down his pint, while Jack had only skimmed the head. He resolved to drink faster, at least initially.
‘Hmm,’ mumbled Alan, froth running along his top lip as he put his glass down. ‘Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter, not to me, anyhow. I got a phone call from the importers of that valve I removed the other day, late this afternoon. I’d asked them to have a look at the valve, to see if it had been tampered with. Apparently not, they said, but it seemed that it was quite old stock and had failed in the closed position.’ Alan reached for his pint again, leaving a narrow passage open for Jack.
‘Still doesn’t prove anything, does it? He fitted it.’
‘Ah, but he got it from your stores the day it arrived from the distributors. It seems they made a minor cock-up; the distributors, not your stores. The valve was a little out of date, they called it obsolescent as opposed to obsolete. Seemingly they try to support the obsolescent items as long as they can, and had had this item on the shelf for a tad longer than normal. That in itself isn’t a problem, but as a matter of policy they normally carry out some tests on stored items over two years old before despatch, just in case.’
‘And this valve was over two years old?’
‘Nearly three. You not thirsty?’ Alan drained his glass and half stood, ready to get himself a top up. Jack took the initiative, sinking the remains of his own pint.
‘I’ll get these, it’s my round,’ he said, removing Alan’s glass from his hand. ‘I take they didn’t test it before despatch, then?’
‘No record of it, they’ve held their hands up and suggested that they have probably cocked up. Fact is, there’s nothing to suggest that our Mr Staples did anything untoward to the valve, and there’s nothing to suggest he had any involvement with the tragic trail of events leading up to the accident. That’s why I was reluctant to call in the authorities, police in particular, because when you start these things it’s very difficult to stop them.’ Jack hovered by the table for a few more seconds, deliberating before pitching in with his revelation.
‘Problem is, John Staples tried to suggest to me that the accident would happen, over a year ago. And he wrote this…’ Jack opened the notebook at the passage that was now ingrained in his memory.
I guessed that the relief valve had failed….
As Alan picked up the book, Jack headed for the bar. He had only just finished ordering the two pints when the sound of Alan’s voice boomed across the bar.
‘Bloody hell!’ Jack turned to see Alan swiftly skipping through the book, as a desperate student does minutes before a vital exam. Paying the barmaid, Jack returned to the table, setting the pints down carefully, losing only a small amount of froth from his own drink.
‘I don’t quite understand a lot of what he writes about, but there’s something in there that stops me throwing that book away.’ Alan looked up, clearly bemused by the rambling text he had just dipped into, and deeply concerned about the passage that explained John Staples had predicted the accident. Jack continued:
‘I’m about to reveal something to you that until this week only my mother, myself and my wife knew. But it appears John knew it as well, and I can’t explain it.’


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

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