Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 12 November 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 17

Jack had been in work twenty minutes when John arrived, flustered and anxious; he had barely ten minutes to spare before the connecting bus to the hospital arrived. The sight of Jack, pale and drawn behind his desk took John aback as much as John’s own countenance struck Jack. Both men stared at each other for several seconds, neither knowing how to start. Eventually Jack regained his composure.
‘Come in, John. You look worse than I feel.’ A wan smile broached John’s face as he entered the room.
‘Thanks. I might as well give up now, then.’ Jack waved to the chair he left at right angles to the foot of his desk, only to be dismissed by a shake of John’s head.
‘I can’t stop, Mr Howells, I’ve a bus to catch in few minutes.’ Jack realised that there was a slur in John’s voice, minor and miss-able, but nonetheless it was there. He looked into the dull eyes, now empty of any emotion that had surfaced during the opening banter.
‘You don’t look too good, John. I hope they’re looking after you.’
‘They are, Mr Howells. I’m being treated by one of their consultants, Dr Jackson. He’s insisted on seeing me again today. I can’t complain, I’ve read that it sometimes takes months to be seen for the first time, let alone to receive a follow up.’ Jack found himself nodding, having read similar tales in the popular press. He was about to enquire into John’s purpose for calling, not quite knowing how to ask the question without sounding crass; why should he need a reason to visit, he had been through a trauma and had, as far as Jack could ascertain, no immediate family or friends to call on. John relieved Jack of the quandary by pitching in with his request.
‘Have you got my notebook? Dr Jackson asked me to bring it along today. I tried to call yesterday, did call, but you were away.’ Jack felt his pale cheeks flush as he realised he hadn’t a clue as to the book’s whereabouts; mentally he scoured his recollection of the places he had visited since waking, including the bathroom, where he had spent much of the morning face down in the toilet. The more he thought, the more convinced he became that the notebook hadn’t been anywhere at home. Karen may have intercepted it last night, put it somewhere safe, but she hadn’t said. It may have ended up crushed in his coat pocket, but he felt certain he would have felt it this morning when he had been wearing the coat. John interrupted Jack’s train of thought.
‘My notebook, Mr Howells? Do you have it?’ Jack shook his head.
‘It’s at home, John. I hadn’t realised you would need it back so soon. I haven’t finished reading it yet, I’ve been so busy, but the subject is fascinating.’ Jack waved expansively across his desk to indicate how busy he had been; it was a useful ruse to avoid eye contact with the man who’s property he had mislaid. Pushing his still aching brain cells as hard as he could, Jack realised that the last time he had seen the notebook had been the previous evening, pushed to one side, in part to allow more space for the accumulating empty and full pint glasses on the small, round table. Jack was convinced that that was where the book had remained, almost certain he could remember it lying there as he had swimmingly surveyed the bar on leaving. He nodded, as if to confirm his false recollection: ‘Yes, I think it’s on the kitchen sideboard. Can I drop it off to you tonight?’ John’s irritation started to shine through the haze fogging his eyes.
‘Sure. I can’t stop, my bus is only a couple of minutes away.’ He started to leave, not rapidly, yet in a hurry. Jack started to offer John a lift, stopping when he remembered that Karen had run him into work, unwilling to let him to drive. As he saw the silhouette of John fade in the crazed glass of his office door, Jack sank his aching head towards the desk top, regret brimming up. He wasn’t a liar by any token, generally he was offended by liars, preferring to tell and receive the truth no matter how distasteful or unwelcome it was. But he had lied without considering telling John what he believed, rejecting automatically the option of saying ‘I think you’re possibly a killer, and I’ve been using your own words to try and prove your guilt. Unfortunately, I think I’ve left them in a pub a few miles from here, available for anybody to read.’
Then the consideration that he had no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, occurred to him. He would have to contact the pub, to try and locate the book; he would have to phone Karen as well, just in case he was mistaken about seeing it on the table as he left. And what if neither option bore fruit? What if it had fallen out of his pocket as he had staggered home whilst leaning heavily on Alan’s shoulder, slipping off pavement kerbstones and bouncing into generally benign shop windows? On its own the book was meaningless, even given the subsequent events at the factory; without the book any evidence turned up regarding John’s involvement with the valve that failed was unlikely to be sufficient to warrant a formal investigation. Not for the first time that day Jack buried his throbbing head into his hands, his eyes clenched closed.
By the time Alan arrived, Jack had pulled some semblance of control into his actions. His head still pounded, but the Paracetamol tablets and hot, strong coffee had successfully conspired to ease the pain. His spirits, though, were low as the phone calls made home and to the pub had not revealed the whereabouts of the notebook. Alan, looking as though he had turned in early the previous evening with nothing stronger than cocoa for refreshment, looked at Jack quizzically.
‘You’re looking rough. Something you ate?’ Alan was used to colleagues and other professional acquaintances failing to cope with a drinking session he had initiated. He was less used to being summoned to a pub by someone so obviously inexperienced in the ways of the barley and the hops. Jack shook his head, forcing a feeble smile.
‘Last time I try to keep pace with you.’ Jack nodded to the chair declined earlier by John Staples, this time readily accepted. ‘Look, I’ve – we’ve got a problem.’ Alan leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk. Jack fumbled with a few papers ‘I’ve lost the notebook, we’re going to have to find something conclusive with the maintenance records if we’re to nail Staples.’ Alan reached into his jacket inside pocket to extract the missing document.
‘What, this one? You were going to leave this on the table back at the pub, I thought I ought to take care of it,’ Alan smiled; he had guessed that Jack would have forgotten about the book. He continued, ‘I’ve photocopied it, as well. Front to back, including the covers. Now, where’s those maintenance records?


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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