Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 22 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 8

Arriving early was fortuitous, as Jack discovered a pile of paperwork dumped onto his desk when he entered the office. He guessed it had been delivered just after he had left the previous evening, along with a note saying that the man from the Health and Safety Executive had invited himself down for a nine o’clock meeting. Rolling his eyes at the prospect of another meeting with Alan, Jack settled down to clearing the paperwork mountain in front of him. As he tackled the first item he decided that an attractive receptionist wasn’t such an advantage, not with a letch like the Alan Parkinson about.
Alan arrived ten minutes late, slightly harassed and, wondered Jack, disappointed to find the receptionist absent from her desk. Jack had persuaded her to pop into town to pick up some tea and coffee, despite her objections that the stocks were adequate for the time being. He had also placed Karen’s photo in a drawer, but he didn’t think the man had noticed that. As was his style, the Health and Safety Executive man came straight to the point.
‘I’m concerned about the cause of the explosion, I think it may have been deliberate.’ He paused while Jack absorbed this information, watching Jack’s face for tell-tale signs that may indicate a lack of surprise. The signs would have been absent as Jack was visibly rocked by the statement, shocked by the implications. The man continued: ‘I took away a number of valves from your plant room the other day, for analysis. It looks as if the main relief valve had stuck in the closed position, preventing a dangerous build up of pressure to escape when the isolation valves had been shut off. In mitigation, both of those valves appear to have been in perfect working order prior to the blast, and it does appear from statements made by the surviving fitter that he and his colleague had inadvertently closed both of those valves off, independently of each other.’ Following a short pause Jack spoke up, confused.
‘I don’t understand. You’re implying that there may have been foul play, yet it seems the problem was down to a combination of a faulty valve and an honest, if tragic, error. Unless you’re suggesting that the relief valve had been tampered with…’
‘To tell the truth, there’s no evidence that it had, however it can’t be ruled out, Mr Howells. What’s concerned me is the amount of maintenance activity logged against that valve over the last eighteen months.’ He held up a loose bound pile of worksheets that Jack had supplied the other day. ‘That valve had been checked three times outside of it’s normal cycle, and was replaced completely two weeks or so before the accident, despite there being no record of a fault logged.’ Jack was nonplussed, unable to comment rationally. Instead he garbled about not being aware that it had been changed, or that it had been looked at out of sequence. After a minute of confused burbling he checked himself and grabbed the problem by the horns.
‘I can’t give you any explanations, but I will endeavour to find answers for you. All I can say is that we are not trying to hide anything here, I’m certainly not. If I had anything to hide, if I had been involved in the unscheduled checks, for any reason beyond anything I can fathom, I would have been able to hide that information without trace. I couldn’t have hidden the valve replacement as easily, had I wanted to, because it would have been linked to a stores demand. All I can say is that I had no specific knowledge of these activities; sure I may have been aware of maintenance working in that area but there are activities such as that happening every day, so it would not necessarily stand out. Do you know who performed these activities?’ Alan pulled out the top sheet from the pile of documents in his hand.
‘Each of these checks and the valve change were carried out by a Mr J. Staples. I was wondering if I could speak with him, in your presence if you like, Mr Howells.’ Jack rocked back in his chair, as the words he had read and re-read three or more hours earlier flooded back to him.
‘I’m afraid that isn’t possible today,’ said Jack fishing a note from amongst the pile he had reviewed that morning ‘Mr Staples’s on sick leave for the rest of the week.’
‘Sick leave?’
‘Mm. Stress related illness. I spoke with him in the hospital yesterday. It seems they discharged him shortly after and signed him off for the week.’
‘Was he in work on Monday, when the explosion happened?’ asked Alan, leaning forward. Jack shook his head, wondering about how much he should say. Most of the information he had on John Staples, that contained in the notebook and what John had told Jack on Monday afternoon, was irrelevant if not bizarre. Yet it was difficult to mention the relevant bits without introducing the weird elements.
‘He was scheduled to start the late shift after a weekend off. He heard about the accident, on the local radio, I think he said, and came in to find out more. He was pretty shook up about the whole thing, and in the end I had him sent to hospital.’
‘He must have been very shaken for you to take that step.’
‘Yes, he sat up in here rambling for half an hour, just before you pitched up I think. I needed to get on, and obviously I needed to give you as much attention as possible, so passing him onto the hospital seemed to be the only option.’
‘I think I will need to see him, sooner rather than later. We could be talking about a criminal investigation here, but I need to try and explore all of the innocent avenues before I hand it over. Can I have his address, please?’ Jack looked at the man he had come to dislike, because he irritated him, because he made Jack feel cheap by association, because he was investigating Jack’s work with the associated implication that there might be something wrong with it. Jack now saw a different man, one who had assumed a responsibility and, to Jack’s surprise, did not seek to exploit it. His face showed that he wanted to be sure that his hunch – for there was no evidence of foul play yet, true evidence – was reasonable.
‘Sure’ said Jack, looking the address up from a file, despite the fact he now knew the address off by heart. He toyed with telling Alan about John’s flights of fancy, his story, his ramblings, wanted to show him the entry that stated, more or less, what had been determined by scientific investigation:
I knew then what had happened. He had closed off the relief outlet, which should have been okay as there is a relief valve in addition to it, but that would have stopped the pressure rising as it did. I guessed that the relief valve had failed and made to open the valve Adam had closed.
The man from the Health and Safety Executive took the paper and, after a few more general questions, begged Jack’s leave. Jack, having parried the questions, explained that he had a meeting to go to, not explaining that it was with his mother at a nursing home just outside of Bristol. As both men drove out of the works’ exit, one turning left, the other right, the receptionist arrived back at the office with the supernumerary refreshment. Putting the bags onto her desk she spoke with the man sat waiting patiently outside of Jack’s office.
‘Oh hello, John. Back again? I thought you said you were signed off for the rest of the week.’


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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    1. The comment by Anonymous has been deleted as it appeared to be a vehicle to post a link to a site I could not trust. While I welcome comments on the blog or my books, please do not use this blog to post unsolicited links. All such comments will be deleted as a matter of course. Ray Sullivan

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  3. The comment by Anonymous has been deleted as it appeared to be a vehicle to post a link to a site I could not trust. While I welcome comments on the blog or my books, please do not use this blog to post unsolicited links. All such comments will be deleted as a matter of course. Ray Sullivan