Jarvis pondered about where he was going to live, to hide, to escape. The Midlands? He thought of his mother who didn’t even know who he was and a brother who cared less. The Southwest was where Edge was and he knew what Edge thought about him. But Edge was dead, wasn’t he? Somehow, he doubted it.
You make everything seem so fucking easy, Jarvis.
What, being a drunk? But he wasn’t there yet and could stop any time he liked. He just needed it for the pain. Didn’t he?
Scotland? No way. Just another shithole full of bile and sectarian hatred. Even the shitty little rural towns reminded him of South Armagh. Wales? Ditto. His prejudices were being trotted out in order to make excuses. The South Downs? Too expensive. The North of England? Too enriched in order to rub the Right’s noses in diversity. Well, you sow what you reap; those thousands of underage girls sacrificed on the altar of diversity should just shut their mouths for the sake of social cohesion.
And he thought of his father and how much he missed him. As a small child Jarvis had lived on the married quarters patch at RAF Scampton before his father had finished his time in the RAF. Purely on a whim, he decided to drive east to Lincolnshire and look around a place he hardly knew.
Jarvis was amazed at the price of the property compared to Tamworth or the Welsh Borders and while he liked the area north of Lincoln, he gravitated to the huge open skies and solitude of the Fens. In Holbeach he looked in the windows of an estate agent and considered a number of properties, particularly one located near Holbeach St Johns. He studied the picture and drove south out of Holbeach to look at this three-bedroomed house set on a couple of acres, next to one of the deep drainage channels. It was in a remote location, the nearest other habitation being some quarter-of-a- mile away. To reach it he had to drive across a bridge over the drainage ditch and on the other side was an area of marshy ground, full of reeds. The house was empty and seemed to be somewhat neglected, so Jarvis decided to take a look round the property. To the rear were outhouses and a garage, somewhere to keep his car and motorbike. The garden was overgrown and overlooked by willow trees, but far enough from the buildings not to cause subsidence problems.
Now he knew why it was for sale at such a low price. The main roof and the roof over a kitchen extension were probably leaking, given the damp marks and mildew running down the wall. He would need builders to rectify that, but the rest of the repairs and decorating could be a project. After all, he had precious little else to occupy him. As he peered through the windows, a sound of an aircraft engine made him look up. A single engine Robin was towing a glider and given their altitude, they must have taken off from somewhere reasonably close by. That swung it for Jarvis and he headed back to the estate agent in Holbeach.
He purchased the property, paying for it outright and moved in as soon as he sold his flat in Abergavenny. He knew that the priority was to make the house weather proof and he hired a local builder to attend to the roof and guttering. During the builder and his apprentice’s lunch break, they got chatting.
“So, what made you buy this place?”
“The price and its location. It’s remote, private and the views across the Fens are really good. I might take up painting.”
“You haven’t been here for the winter, have you?” The builder was making a statement rather than asking a question, “The north-easterly winds sweep in and all you can smell are bloody cabbages. Those wide-open skies become very oppressive and so does the loneliness.”
Jarvis smiled, “I’ve been through worse.”
“I guess you have. That leg you’re limping around on was picked up in the Army, wasn’t it?”
“How did you know?”
“The local jungle drums. It’s difficult to keep any secrets round here.”
Jarvis smiled to himself as they drank coffee, “I’m an outsider, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Do you know about this place?”
“Only that it’s been empty for a couple of years.”
“That’s because nobody likes going anywhere near this house.”
Jarvis stared at the builder, “Why?”
“It was the long cold winter about three years back. An old couple used to live here. He was a strange one and she was bedbound. The council clear and grit the main roads, but not the smaller roads like the one that runs past here. Nobody knows for sure. Some say that the solitude and his wife being ill drove him mad. Either way, he stuck both barrels of a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off. In that garage over there. And his wife couldn’t get out of bed and she died about a week later, so in the end he killed both of them.”
“My God!” Jarvis exclaimed.
“And it was at least six months before anybody bothered to check up on them. By that time…”
“I get the picture.”
“But if you’re not worried about it and put the work in, this place has a lot of potential.”
And Jarvis did put in the work, concentrating on a deep clean and redecorating the bedrooms and reception rooms. He got the builders to check and repoint the chimney and opened up the inglenook. He put in a wood burner in the sitting room, which also heated the water. The property’s central heating was oil fired from a large tank to the rear of the property, which also worked the kitchen stove. He even brought some cheap watercolour paints, paper and brushes and started to complete some indifferent paintings. Edge had showed him how to lay down a wash and as he painted in the warmth of his kitchen, he often thought about Edge, wondering what he was doing now, convinced his death was too convenient and he realised whith shock, he really missed him.
He started gliding at the local club near Cowbit and occasionally hired one of their gliders, once they had checked his paperwork. The days he spent flying at the club were the few occasions that he remained truly sober and he enjoyed soaring upwards in thermals, until he could see Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, the Wash and the North Sea, reluctant to return to earth and the crushing solitude.
And he was in constant pain. Not just his leg, but now his abdomen, his side and his urine was a dirty brown colour.
Kidney stones. I should really go to the doctor. Sometime anyway. No hurry.
Guy Jarvis took stock of his life and soon began to realise that it was pretty worthless. He thought about what could have been and the opportunities he wasted, concentrating on serving with the Special Forces, a job that in the end he hated. He burned his warrant, certificate of exemplary service and medals. They meant nothing to him now and doubted if they ever had, but most of all he cursed a country that had forgotten about him, alone and lonely in the Fens.
“A fat, bloody help you’ve been,” he said out loud as the flames consumed the Elizabeth R signature on the warrant.
The bad dreams continued, more frequently now despite the alcohol. He never dreamed of the previous occupants, the man who had committed suicide or the woman he had allowed to die. Jarvis was tortured by his own thoughts and his past and no amount of acting could bury them. He realised that throughout his army career, he had been frightened, frightened of showing fear and all of the years of repressed terror were rearing up to bury him.
And that night they did. He fought against sleep, but it crept up on him like an assassin. And the first act on the bill was the Incredible Melting Bluma, but she was just the warm-up. Next, he was floundering in a swamp on the edge of Rokel Creek. OK, so they were firing at him, the rounds scything through the long grass. He was up to his mid-thighs in mud and couldn’t move forward to the fight through, or back into cover and he looked round for help and saw the crocodile heaving itself out of the muddy creek, bearing down on him. Fast forward eight years and he was in the caves. The bats clattering past his head…
Fire in the hole!
And the little girl holding the dead cat looked at him, her large, bleeding eyes staring and asking him “Why?” The cat struggled in her arms and hissed at him.
And then a Canadian woman engulfed him with gouts of her hot blood, erupting from her mouth and neck, her arms stretched out in a parody of the crucifixion. But this was nothing compared to the star attraction, a little girl holding a Teddy bear, tears running down her face.
“Why did you kill my Daddy?”
Jarvis screamed out loud this time and sat up gasping for breath. His heart was racing and missing beats. It was four in the morning.
Time for Dr Bowmore’s knockout treatment. He staggered downstairs and filled a tumbler, sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands.
Today I am going to kill myself. I can’t take any more of this.
By the following night, Jarvis had drunk himself sober.
How to do the deed?
Exhaust pipe and hose in the garage?
No. That’s the coward’s way out. You could sit in the garage for ever and nobody would find you. No friends. No family. No lovers. You could have had it all, but you waited for a person who would never come back, if she was ever there. You’re just too selfish.
Overdose of paracetamol?
Good idea if you want it slow and protracted, while your organs pack up.
I think some of them already have.
Car into a wall it is then. The long straight road with Delph bank to his right, the sharp right turn across the drainage ditch with the brick parapet of the bridge. I should have built up enough speed by then, hit the wall and goodbye Guy Jarvis.
His guts were on fire as he hobbled out to the garage and got in his car.
You’re being a selfish bastard, Guy Jarvis. You could kill someone.
I’ll see their lights from miles away and how many cars are on the roads this time of night, out here? He started the engine and went to reach for his seat belt.
No clunk-clicking this trip. ‘Ows about that then boys and gals? Oops, me trackie bottoms have just fallen down… He giggled, but forgot to disable the air bag.
All aboard the Dignitas Express.
He headed out of his property and turned right to head north then left towards Moulton Chapel. The road doubled back towards Sutton St James. After the sharp bend, the road was about a mile long and straight with a huge drain and dyke to his right. He stopped by the side of the road to allow a car to go past and checked the road ahead was clear. His car was a Ford Focus ST, so it had a good turn of speed with acceleration to match.
“Well, time to find out if God is a figment of our imagination,” he said out loud and hammered the accelerator down.
There were no cats’ eyes on this stretch of road and the reeds streaked past on his right hand side. He stopped looking at the speedometer as he hit eighty, because he was fighting to stay on the road. The low parapet of the bridge was just within the arc of his headlights and he switched on main beam.
One of the main problems the road makers in the Fens faced was that of subsidence in the soft, marshy topsoil, particularly roads that were adjacent to the thousands of drainage channels and rivers. The weight of huge, agricultural vehicles compounded the problem and turned the surface of the roads into an undulating, white-knuckle ride. Jarvis was doing nearly ninety when the Focus hit the depression, grounding the suspension. It bounded up out of the rutted road and the front wheels left the road surface. The car was still travelling forward at over eighty, the unevenness of the asphalt projecting the vehicle across the reeds and over the drainage ditch. The heavy engine dragged the front down and Jarvis saw the black, muddy water below him in the headlights. The lighter back end kept going with its momentum as the front and engine headed for the water. The drainage channel was about fifteen feet wide at the banks and tapered downwards to seven feet under twelve feet of water.
By now the Ford Focus was fully inverted and there was only one way it could go. Jarvis was upside down and travelling backwards as the car had turned 180 degrees onto its roof. It struck the water at Forty miles-per-hour, bonnet first and slammed into the drainage channel. For a few moments, the still spinning wheels were visible just above the hissing water and then with a belch of trapped air and a bubble of black water, the car slid below the turgid drainage channel. After fifteen seconds the lights went out and there was no sign it had ever been there, no skid marks on the road, no disturbed vegetation on the bank, just oily black ripples on the water they settled in the slow, sluggish flow to the river and onwards to the sea.
Jarvis was trapped upside down, his head below the rapidly filling car, the airbag was keeping him in his seat. He vomited whisky tasting bile, swallowed water and began to struggle. This was not what he had planned, no quick sudden end, just slow drowning in freezing and filthy off run from the fields. Unexpectedly suicide was not the way he had imagined it and he fought to stay alive. He tried to open the driver’s door but what he thought was water pressure resulted in his not being able to budge it. Except it wasn’t water pressure. The car was upside down, the narrow banks impinging any movement. There would be no escaping from the doors or side windows. He wriggled in the blackness from under the steering wheel and with his feet on the inside roof of the car, gasped for breath in a rapidly diminishing air pocket.
I’m going to die in here! Drowned in fetid, stinking water.
Well it’s what you wanted isn’t it?
Yes, but not like this!
He was contorted, his head on its side, breathing the last few breaths in the vanishing air pocket.
“Help me!” he screamed futilely.
Guy! Get a grip of yourself. You’ll have to get out through the hatchback.
There will be tools in the boot. A tyre brace or even the jack. Smash your way out.
Jarvis half swam and crawled between the two front seats and felt for the release catch at the top or rather the bottom of the rear seat. He got tangled in the rear seat belt and then pushed into the boot. He pulled the spare wheel cover out of the way and dragged the can of inflation compound away, then felt for the wheel brace. It was the jack, better than nothing and hammered at the rear hatchback window. There was no way of swinging it with any power through the water and it just bounced off the toughened glass.
No, Guy. Concentrate! Think of the Comet aircraft. The corner of the window is where the stress is concentrated. Hit it in the corner. You’re running out of time.
No shit, Dad.
His vision was flecked with coloured motes and the swallowing reflex was kicking in. Jarvis felt for the corner of the window and with his failing strength, hammered at it. Even under the water he heard the glass go.
Now kick, kick Guy, a hole big enough to get out. Don’t worry about cuts and scratches, they’re the least of your worries.
He felt the toughened glass give way under his boots and wriggled through the tearing shards like he was being re-born.
Follow the bubbles. Don’t get disorientated. Swim for your life, like those Sunday mornings.
How bloody deep is this thing?
He burst out of the water and gasped for breath. The air had never smelled so sweet, but the cold was soaking into his marrow. He vomited and coughed rank water from his lungs and began to shiver uncontrollably.
I have to get out, otherwise I will drown in here.
But the banks were slimy with black mud, reeds tangled and twisted round his body. Jarvis began to haul himself out of the drainage ditch and was halfway up the bank when a car went past on the road… On the opposite side.
Oh God, I’m getting out of the wrong side.
He swam across the water channel with the last of his failing strength and began the torturous process of hauling his body out of the water again. He slid back down twice, but managed to reach the top of the bank by pulling with his arms. He didn’t have enough strength left to make it to the road, collapsing unconsciously in the reeds with his right arm halfway on the road. His world went grey and then black.
The Latvian pulled his cycle off the road, dumped it in the reeds and decided to go for a piss. He was badly hungover after drinking until one in the morning, in the caravan with his fellow pickers and needed a drink of water as much as a piss. The dawn was just painting the sky yellow and orange over Long Sutton and he sent a contented, steaming arc of urine over the frosted reeds. A Heron swept overhead and he watched it alight on a tree trunk on the far bank. Opposite an arm was sticking out of the vegetation, as though it was pointing down the road. An arm?
This was not the accepted morning routine, even in the Fens and the Eastern European penchant for murdering each other after a few drinks. Well, lots of drinks actually. He zipped himself up and walked slowly down the road to inspect the arm. On arrival, he was somewhat relieved to see that the arm was attached to a body.
Then he tried Latvian, again with no result. Knowing he would be late for work and probably lose a day’s wages, docked by the gang master, he nevertheless pulled out his phone and dialled 999.
“Police. I have found a body.”
“What is your name and where are you?”
There followed a protracted conversation, equally frustrating for both participants, while the Latvian tried to tell the operator who was in Leicester, where he was. It became more surreal when the operator asked if he had checked for a pulse.
She gave up and told him to wait for the police to arrive, which they finally did, not in any particular hurry. At least one of the coppers had the wherewithal to check the body’s carotid pulse and found a low, fast and erratic heartbeat.
“This one’s still alive.”
“Oh bollocks. I’ll get an ambulance.”
Jarvis would never have any recollection of the ambulance drive to the Boston Pilgrim hospital, nor having defibrillation in the back of the ambulance, or the treatment of oxygen and warm fluid infusion in the intensive care unit. It was during this treatment that they found out that severe hypothermia was just part of the list of internal injuries Jarvis had sustained, over many years and at his own hand. Forty-eight hours after he regained consciousness, a gastroenterologist physician with a posse of flunkies came to visit him. It was like the League of Commonwealth nations. The physician sat on the bed and looked at the patient.
“Good morning, Mr Jarvis. Do you mind if I and my colleagues sound your abdomen?”
They took it in turns to palpate his abdomen, listening and feeling.
“You see and hear the build-up of fluids?”
“Classic ascites. Are you in pain, Mr Jarvis?”
“No. I feel comfortably numb.”
“Do you have trembling hands? The DTs?”
“Wait outside please,” the physician told his flunkies, then turned to Jarvis.
“Mr Jarvis, you have advanced liver disease which has caused a build-up of fluids in your abdomen. We will need to prescribe diuretics to reduce this fluid and prevent further damage to your internal organs. We will also need to monitor your kidney function to ensure they are not damaged; the two often going hand-in-hand.”
Jarvis stared at the doctor, “I’m toast, aren’t I?” It’s what I deserve for my destructive life.”
“Dead. Slotted. Under the mallet. Got the chop. Bought the farm. Brown bread.”
Suddenly he didn’t want to die. The physician looked at him with sad, brown eyes, set in a kindly brown face. He had heard it so many times before.
“Mr Jarvis, I am not here to judge you, nor to moralise about why you have ended up here. In many ways, your road traffic incident was quite fortuitous, because I believe that you were drinking yourself to death in a week or so. The future is not so certain. If you continue to drink even moderate amounts of alcohol, then you will die a protracted, but not that protracted and painful death. You must decide whether you believe that life is worth living and not to dwell on the factors that have caused you to be here.
“The staff here will offer you every support, but in the end, you are the one who is in control of your own destiny. Life is a story. You chose your own story…”
“And a story is better with God? Life of Pi unless I’m mistaken. Except I don’t believe in God.”
“Mr Jarvis, you were, are a military man. You must have had something to sustain you.”
“How do you know?”
“One can tell.”
“I believed in my training and the skill and professionalism of my brothers in arms. There is nothing else.”
Jarvis thought about a creased Kevlar helmet and a torn helmet cover, “Just good luck.”
The doctor nodded, “And bad luck?”
“Then you must decide whether to choose to make your own story,” The doctor stood up, “I will be back to see you tomorrow. We can discuss your future treatment.”
Jarvis spent much of the next twenty-four hours in a stupefied period of lucidity. He was deeply ashamed and glad of the drugs to help him sleep in the ward of prematurely aged men who were wrestling with their own demons. A song sprang unbidden into his mind and the shame and guilt was crushing. Old Red eyes is back.
Jarvis opened his eyes at mid-morning and was surprised to see that Jesus was sitting on the window sill at the side of his bed. Jesus was watching him with an intensity that he found frightening. This Jesus was obviously the post-crucifixion version with a battered face framed by long hair.
“So, you’ve come for me,” Jarvis said with a sense of relief.
Now available on Amazon: War Crimes for the Political Elite
And from Matador:
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file