Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 8 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 2

Jack had assumed, incorrectly, that the officer representing the Health and Safety Executive would have wanted to see the site of the accident immediately. The man, Alan Parkinson, had dallied and dithered in Jack’s office for nearly three quarters of an hour before he started to move towards the accident scene. In the intervening period he had, in turn, checked out Jack’s receptionist, poured over the last annual maintenance report, drunk tea (after checking out the receptionist again as she brought the cups in), re-read the maintenance report, eyed up Jack’s wife’s photograph and, eventually, asked Jack about the events of the afternoon.
‘I was about to attend the weekly status meeting with the heads of department when I heard the bang,’ Jack started to recount. Alan held up the much perused report in way of interruption.
‘This would be about…?’ he asked, waving the report vaguely.
‘It would be just before eleven, no, wait, I was running late. I had been on the phone to one of our suppliers over a bad batch of switches. I think they’ve let their quality control slip because we’ve had nothing with trouble with these things for weeks. Anyway their sales department had become aware that we were unhappy and were trying to placate me.’
‘These switches, do you use them in the factory?’ Alan asked with little enthusiasm.
‘No, we use them in one of our test labs. When the development team want to create a new test method they usually want us to throw a test rig together. We’ve standardised on these switches over the last few years as they’re quite adaptable. But the lab’s away from the factory itself.’ Alan nodded, satisfied that the switches were probably unrelated to his task. He looked at his watch for the first time since arriving in Jack’s office.
‘I think it’s time we checked whether the firefighters have satisfied themselves that the area is safe, don’t you?’ With that he turned, deftly placed his empty tea cup and saucer onto Jack’s desk and left the office, holding the door momentarily to indicate to Jack that he should follow.
They found the firefighters wrapping the last of their hoses away when they reached the site of the accident. The Health and Safety Executive man had established the whereabouts of the officer-in-charge from them, and they found that man picking his way carefully through the rubble and twisted metal that several hours earlier had been the plant room. Jack looked around, trying to spot features that would help with his bearings, spotting several down-pipes that seemed to be in the correct position, even if the shells of the boilers did not. He realised that these two men were on a wavelength that only occasionally crossed his own. The basis of their conversation was English, sure, but the jargon and acronyms made large parts of the conversation unintelligible to him. As they discussed the various clues and pointers lying around, debating whether one particular three letter abbreviation was more appropriate than some other, equally meaningless, jumble of letters, Jack started to understand the drift of their conversation. The details were disguised in techno-babble, but essentially they had agreed on where the explosion had occurred, and what type of explosion it was.
The officer-in-charge lifted a loose section of battered girder to reveal a gouged out trough in the concrete floor, some four feet from the rear wall. He indicated the remains of boiler mounting brackets three quarters of the way up the wall, bent and twisted in the shape of burned arms crying out for help. He pointed to the ruptured pressure vessel lying forlornly against the side wall, it’s heart ripped open, and to the chunks of breeze block smashed apart by the force of the vessel striking them. Then both men spoke Jack’s English, standard engineering English, using acronyms that were familiar to his ears. They had requested to see the plant schematics, the maintenance logs for the last three years and all documentation pertaining to the equipment used in the building.
As the three men finished with the inspection Jack was called to an internal phone, where he found out that one of the fitters involved in the accident had just died in hospital, mainly due to the extent of his burns and that the other was still critical. The men had expressed sympathy and concern, but they were professional people in their own world; neither would allow the tragic specifics of the day’s events to cloud their judgement. Jack managed a passable impersonation of detachment in their presence, out of a sense of professionalism he didn’t share internally.


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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