Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 16 November 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 19

Jack looked out of the office window, attracted by the sound of a running engine underneath. He watched the driver walk across to the low step and disappear from his sight into the foyer almost exactly beneath his office. He could just make out the shape and colour of a forehead pressed against the passenger window, and the few stray hairs showing suggested that it was John Staples. After a couple of minutes the driver returned into view and, having walked around the rear of the car, climbed in, half throwing something onto the rear seat. As the car left the company premises, it turned left.
‘You’re in for a surprise if you want to get to John’s house in a hurry,’ muttered Jack. A right turn would have led to the most direct route. He turned back to his desk and tidied up the last of the maintenance records, ensuring that they were filed correctly. He had a busy afternoon catching up on the many activities that had been neglected, and these records needed to be moved back to the archive before he could begin.
Sam had weaved through a labyrinth of streets before finding the route he was looking for, and within twenty minutes was heading east along the M62. The afternoon traffic was at sub rush-hour pitch, and consequently he found, to his surprise, the journey to be quite pleasant. His passenger stirred occasionally, but never reached a level of consciousness that would compromise their direction. Within an hour and a quarter of leaving John’s works’ premises, Sam turned off onto the Yorkshire dales. On this road the traffic was even lighter, with only a couple of other vehicles travelling in his direction and only one passing towards the motorway in the following ten minutes. Following Michael Watson’s directions, Sam eventually began to see the directions to RAF Fylingdales, long before the conspicuous phased arrays hove into view.
At the main entrance Sam was surprised to find that he wasn’t expected, nor were the guards enthusiastic about an unannounced doctor and a sleeping passenger, requesting that he turn away from the main gate. Parked outside of the establishment Sam called Michael’s mobile, explaining his predicament to an answer machine. Putting his own phone back into his pocket, Sam got out of the car and paced around it several times, taking in the dim, bleak view. The November gloom had descended during the last half hour of the journey, and he could feel the fine, cool droplets of evening mist forming on his face. The main gate of the base was lit coldly, the sodium lights penetrating shallowly into the darkening mists. The guards, having carried out their duty to exclude all but the entitled paid Sam very little attention; instead they chatted amiably to each other outside of attending to the very occasional visitors. Most of the traffic was outward bound, a direction they paid scant interest in. Sam looked along the frontage of the sprawling base, noting the small clusters of cars parked along the verge, presumably enthusiasts and generally curious passer-bys.
As he waited for his call he noted that he had probably been the last of the day’s casual visitors, with most of the parked up vehicles pulling away shortly after he had been turned away. Up ahead he saw an RAF police car moving along the sparse group of cars, stopping to talk to the inhabitants of each for several seconds, always resulting in the car departing. He noticed that some of the cars due to be visited drove off before they were approached by the police car; presumably they had got the message and had taken the initiative. Sam realised that in the space of three minutes the quantity of cars to be dealt with by the RAF security had diminished from about eighteen to just four, and he wondered whether he would fare any better with these people than he had with the guards. A thought flashed through his mind; what if they enquired about Staples? The guards on the front gate, efficient as they were, did not appear to be professional security personnel. Sam had guessed that they were station personnel undertaking a guarding duty. The officers driving along, speaking to the occupants of the parked cars, were bona-fide policemen; they may well take a less passive interest in his activities, although Sam was convinced their only intention was only to encourage himself and the other parked-up viewers to depart the area adjacent to their jurisdiction.
Sam stayed outside of the car, leaning against the driver’s door, wrapping his coat around him tightly. He heard the conversation with the car driver ahead of him start as his mobile rang. Worryingly, the policeman leaning out of the car window was taking the name of the driver parked up, without any preamble. The man was attempting to explain that he had a rational and justifiable purpose for being parked there, without extracting any semblance of interest from the policeman, who also appeared to be unimpressed with the identification the man passed across. Sam answered the ringing phone:
‘Sam Jackson.’
‘It’s Michael,’ said Michael brightly, ‘I guess they wouldn’t let you on. Where are you?’
‘Outside the main gate, I think I’m about to get moved on by the RAF police, they’re about to approach me once they’ve dealt with the car in front.’ Sam’s teeth chattered as he spoke, and he knew it wasn’t just the chill air that caused the reflex. He listened as Michael’s tone altered:
‘OK, I can sort that. Or at least someone here can, let me ring off for a moment to make the arrangements and then I’ll call you back. I’m having to use a land-line in here as mobiles are frowned upon. It took some persuading to let me check my voice mail.’ Before Sam could answer, the line was dead. The police car pulled up alongside as he lowered his phone. Sam realised the other car was pulling away slowly, clearly too slowly for the policeman, who was noticeably irritated. Speaking to Sam, but hanging out of the window, scouring at the slowly departing vehicle he spoke firmly.
‘Can I ask what your business is here, Sir – YOU, I SAID MOVE ON. Sorry about that, Sir, some people will insist on taking the piss.’ Sam followed the policeman’s stare and watched the car, now accelerating, heeding the shouted admonition. Both Sam and the policeman turned their heads towards each other. Sam decided to try and talk his way in again.
‘I’m expected at the medical facility, or at least I was supposed to be. It seems that the front gate weren’t informed, and the guards turned me away. I’ve spoken with personnel on the base and they are supposed to be…’ Sam paused as the policeman’s radio crackled into life. Listening to the staccato message, Sam gathered that the police were being informed about his presence being expected, and that ‘someone’ would be at the gate to meet him presently.
‘It seems you’re expected, Sir. There’s some visitors’ parking over there, to the right of the gate guards, you’ll be met there. Don’t bother with the guardroom until you’ve touched base, else you’ll probably miss them.’ The policeman smiled and wound his window up, not waiting for any reply from Sam. As Sam nodded and started to turn to his door he noted a change in the policeman’s face; a hardening of expression as he checked his rear view mirror. Sam looked left and saw that the vehicle that had just been moved on had stopped about two hundred yards further on, faintly visible in the clawing darkness. Shaking his head, Sam climbed into his seat and closed the door, while the police car reversed noisily and erratically along the road towards the persistent driver. Swinging round in an arc, Sam re-entered the bounds of the base and pulled up in the visitors’ car park.
Within two minutes a green and black camouflaged Land-Rover pulled up alongside, with Michael in the passenger seat. He slid off the Land-Rover’s leatherette seat and crunched the gravel on the car park, wildly swinging the aluminium door closed before walking over to the now standing Sam. Holding his hand out, he smiled brilliantly.
‘Sam, it’s great that you managed to achieve this, so soon. We expected problems with the patient,’ Michael stooped to look into the BMW, pausing to absorb the image of the still sleeping John. ‘Does he know where you were taking him to?’
‘I told him it was a clinic in Warrington and he never pressed for more details than that. Quite helpful, really, as weaving tales isn’t really in my skill set,’ replied Sam. ‘Shall we get him inside, his medication will be wearing off pretty soon and it would be useful if he was in a hospital environment before he come to.’ Michael nodded in agreement.
‘Let’s transfer him to the Land-Rover, he can be strapped into the passenger seat and I’ll travel in the back,’ he said, nodding towards the waiting vehicle. Sam was dismayed, he hadn’t expected to act purely as an ambulance driver – hell, even ambulance drivers were allowed into the hospital.
‘Why don’t we leave him where he is, I can follow you onto the base and we can take him between us into the medical centre,’ suggested Sam with a tinge of irritation in his voice. Michael paused as he considered this suggestion, looking for the world as if it had not occurred to him that Sam might continue the journey to it’s final conclusion.
‘No, there’s problems with that. Fact is, the military are a bit upset about us being here. It took a lot of string pulling to gain the limited access that we have got, and asking to bring you on is likely to risk stretching that string tight enough to break it, if you follow my drift,’ said Michael, shrugging apologetically as he spoke.
‘Then why did you suggest using this place, if they’re going to be a bit arsey about it,’ Sam argued, a little heatedly, ‘there must be hundreds of clinics and hospitals you could have used. We had a lot of clout on this project, has all of that gone?’
Michael shivered as he replied.
‘A lot of the clout has gone, yes. It’s not surprising really as the project has remained more or less dormant for the last five years. We chose this location because it has a fully equipped medical facility away from public view that is relatively unused. It’s more like a mini hospital, actually, but the military are loathe to allow it to be used for anything other than their own essential activities. You see, if we went to war, this place would be one of the first targets for any meaningful enemy, so it has to be able to become entirely self sufficient. Their reasoning is that any non essential usage of their fall-back facilities is likely to cause attrition on them in the short term, and is likely to yield further requests for access in the medium to long term. Consequently they aren’t making this place too welcome for us, and I think they would use your presence as an excuse to renege on the agreement.’
‘OK, I see that, but when Staples here comes to and finds himself surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces, where is that going to lead us. You’re going to have an uphill struggle without me on hand to act as a facilitator. Christ, you know the problems we had before “she” trusted anyone…’ Sam trailed off, unsure of how to continue, certain that he was being excluded, and probably not for the reasons stated. Michael pursed his lips, then, as he started to turn back to the Land-Rover he spoke quietly.
‘Good point, and as I recall it was you that got her on-side. I’ll see what I can do.’ As he walked he turned his head back towards Sam to ask, ‘Did you get the notebook?’ Michael paused without turning fully, waiting for Sam’s answer. Sam looked involuntarily towards the rear seat where the book lay.
‘No, I’ll be able to get it next week, though, I’ve made arrangements for it to be sent to me.’ Despite the cool evening air Sam could feel his cheeks flush warm, convinced they were glowing. If Michael had noticed, he didn’t show it.
‘Right. I’ll see about getting you some permission,’ he said, continuing his walk back to the Land-Rover. As he leaned in, to obtain access to the on-board radio, Sam turned away, leaning against the roof of the BMW. Watching the condensing air as it gathered around his face each time he exhaled, he evaluated his position. He had found John Staples, he had made the contact with Michael, he had taken all of the risks. Those risks, he told himself, were not trivial and could lead to severe disciplinary action against himself should Staples complain. Drawing in deeply he considered his options; clearly he was not being invited to become an integral part of the team, he was simply being used. He could return John Staples home, treat him with some conventional therapy that might, just might, help him if he truly was a level-three candidate. Or he could try to insist that he was involved with the treatment, even as an observer, make it a condition of letting Staples enter the camp. Or he could just let them take Staples, they would have to win him over and it would give him time to distance himself from the project should anything go wrong. He heard footsteps behind him. Turning he found Michael facing him, both palms open.
‘They won’t play ball, Sam, I’ve tried. The airforce people here don’t really want us and they see this as another, thicker part of a previously thin end to a wedge. Look, I can work on them, let it ride for a few days and perhaps they’ll see that we’re not loading their facilities. As for Staples, we can keep him sedated for a few days so he’ll be unaware that you’re not present. What do you say?’ Michael raised his right eyebrow as he finished, lightening his features considerably. Sam thrust his fists deep into his coat pockets, feeling the fingernails cut into the balls of his thumbs.
‘How about you work on the big-wigs here, and I bring Staples when you’re ready. He’s had a week of sedatives already, it’s not a good idea to keep him loaded,’ Sam said. Michael considered this carefully:
‘You could be right, but to be honest it’s taken a lot of political manoeuvring to get this place and the right people set up in such a short time. Come on Sam, put him into the Land-Rover, let me take over for now, and I’ll call you early next week. We’re not going to get any change out of these people now, it’s Friday evening so we’ll have to wait until Monday for the grown ups to return, the ones with the authority to flex the rules. If you take Staples back now we risk losing him to the project, and we both know how important it is. Once we get him on-line, so to speak, if we get a couple of good results, like we did with ‘her’ then these boys are bound to see the possibilities.’ Sam shook his head.
‘Sorry Michael, I’m not convinced your thinking about the patient’s needs thoroughly enough. Of course, why should you, you’re not a medical man. I’m taking Staples back, call me on Monday if you’ve got any information,’ said Sam gravely. As he turned to get back into his car Michael grabbed his shoulder, pulling him back to face him.
‘Don’t do this Sam, you know you’re not thinking straight. I know you think you’ve been used, and to be honest I think you’re right. But stopping this now isn’t the way, you can still be a part of it. Hell, they’ll probably have to call you in within a week anyway, I doubt if anybody else knows as much about the techniques as you do.’
Sam shrugged the hand off his shoulder and climbed in the BMW, starting the engine before shutting the door. As he did so, the Land-Rover moved forward and cut up in front of Sam, causing him to select reverse. As he again tried to move forward the camouflaged vehicle adjusted it’s position, again effectively blocking his exit. Additionally the police car that had been moving cars on appeared in his peripheral vision and pulled up across his rear, preventing any more shunting operations. As Sam angrily switched off his engine a couple of military personnel clad in combat clothing climbed out of the rear of the Land-Rover and made their way around Sam’s car. As he leaned over to push the door locking mechanism down, his own door was yanked open by Michael, who dragged Sam away from the passenger door. Grunting, Sam swung ineffectually at Michael, the constraining cabin of the BMW restricting his movements. The men from the back of the Land-Rover opened the passenger door and roughly unbelted and removed John, slamming the door loudly as soon as his feet had cleared the car. Simultaneously, Michael opened the rear door and fished out the notebook, spun around and threw it towards one of the two men dragging John. Sam jumped out, but found himself at a functional disadvantage, with the driver’s door firmly pushed to, wedging his now half standing frame. Michael’s eyes blazed as he pushed against the door.
‘It’s your own fault, Sam. You forced this, now back down.’ Sam pushed back, in vain.
‘Bastard. You never intended to involve me. You’ve just been using me to get your hands on Staples,’ shouted Sam, punctuating the sentences with ineffectual thrusts.
‘Steady Sam, you’re jumping to conclusions. I can’t change the views of those running this place, not now, not here, and to be honest you’re not doing yourself any favours. Sure, I made contingency plans in case you reacted in this way, but that doesn’t mean we won’t need you. Now go away, take the weekend to think things through, and call me on Monday. I’ll be back at my office by the afternoon, and I’ll have had a chance to sort something out.’ Sam stared at Michael, only vaguely aware that the Land-Rover had driven off. Inside he had to suppress an instinct to punch Michael, indeed almost failed to suppress it and it was only the two RAF policemen joining Michael that persuaded him to reconsider. He nodded and wiped spittle from his lip with his one free hand.
‘OK. I still think you’re a bastard, Michael, but I’ll call. I’ll call,’ he said, slowly extricating himself as Michael eased the pressure on the door. Sitting down in his seat again he passed the seat belt across his now bruised chest, wincing as he did so, and re-started the engine. Winding the window down he leant on the sill and nodded: ‘I’ll call.’
Michael watched as the BMW roar angrily away from the main gate, wheels skidding as it turned left, back towards the M62 and Manchester. As the sound of the engine died in the distance he turned and accepted the offer of a lift in the back of the RAF vehicle.


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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