As the crane lifted the wrecked car into the sky I saw a man in the front seat, waving his arms frantically and shouting words I couldn’t hear.
“Stop!” I yelled into my phone, to Bernard, my boss who was driving the crane. He had been just about to lower the vehicle into our ‘crusher’, the massive hydraulic press that squashes cars into small metal blocks.
Thank goodness he heard me in time, and he left the old Jaguar dangling there for a while until I asked him to lower it to the ground.
“What on earth are you talking about?” he asked me in surprise. “You know I check every car before it goes into the crusher, there can’t be anyone inside.”
“I tell you I saw someone!” I told him a few moments later, as we both stared into the empty vehicle.
“So where is he?”
“I don’t know,” I blustered, feeling a fool. “Some poor homeless bloke must have got inside the yard somehow and slept in the car, and didn’t hear you fix the chains on.”
“But I told you, I checked it.”
“You missed him.”
“There where is he now?”
My boss turned back and stared at me, frowning. “So you’re at it again, are you Tom? Hallucinations at five in the afternoon? You’ve started drinking again, haven’t you? No need to answer, I can smell it on your breath.”
“No, I wasn’t seeing things I swear I haven’t—”
“Get your cards from the office. When I took you on, fresh from jail and an ex-alcoholic, I told you that drinking was an absolute no-no. I gave you a chance. You blew it.”
So saying, he walked off, and yesterday’s weekend binge came back to me.
But that was the whole point.
It had been yesterday I’d been disgustingly drunk, and not today. Non-drinkers don’t realise that on the rare occasions that hallucinations might occur, they typically happen some hours after a heavy drinking session, thus proving that I had not been boozing on the job, but I knew that Bernard wasn’t about to listen.
And it did seem that he was right about me seeing things.
It was getting dark, a miserable semi twilight and drizzle settling in. There was no hurry to fetch my cards and truth to tell, I would be glad to leave this wretched car breakers-cum-scrapyard for the last time, so I decided to take a closer look at the car.
This particular car meant quite a lot to me, as it happened. It had crashed into a wall, killing the driver instantly, and rendering the vehicle a write-off.
I had not told Bernard, or anyone else, but I had known the driver, Ken Oliver. He had attended some of the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I had been to, and I recognised him from the picture in the newspaper after the accident. A shy, quiet, somewhat inoffensive kind of middle-aged man, I had been instinctively drawn to him for some reason, and had chatted to him after a meeting. He had told me about how worried he was about his daughter, who lived in St Ives in Cornwall. I’d lived there for a while when I was trying to make a living as a landscape painter, in what seemed like a lifetime ago. After I had enjoyed reminiscing, he had told me about his daughter’s financial struggles after her partner had left her alone with two children. As we parted outside the meeting room, he had looked at me thoughtfully, and said: “Tom, most of us here won’t pull through. But you will. I’m sure you’re going to make it to the other side and break this vicious circle of guilt, stress and drinking that we all inhabit. You’re going to beat this thing. Trust me, Tom, I know you’re going to make it.”
He’d been wrong of course. But at the time his words had meant the world to me, and on a number of subsequent occasions they had stiffened my resolve to resist.
I searched the inside of the car. When I checked the glovebox, I found one bulky package and two large envelopes. One envelope was addressed to the Chief Constable of police of our county, and the other was addressed to a solicitor. The package had the name: Ms Victoria Brown, on it with an address in St Ives, Cornwall. All three of them were stamped, so clearly Ken had intended to post them before he’d had his tragic accident.
But had he changed his mind about posting them at the last minute?
That evening, in my tiny miserable bed-sitting room, I pondered on my situation. Two years ago I’d had a well paid job as an admin officer with a big retail store but my drinking had made my attendance erratic. The high cost of my lifestyle had tempted me into ‘borrowing’ some company money, and when it was discovered I’d been fired and received a very short prison sentence. My wife had left me long ago, and now, I could truly admit that my one and only love affair was with alcohol. I had no savings, the rent was due next week, and now I had no job. Though I had tried and tried to stop drinking, every time I got over a drinking bout I faced a stressful situation. And in a stressful situation I couldn’t resist a drink.
I carefully opened up the parcel. There was a letter, which I read:
I am certain that your stepmother is trying to murder me so as to get what little money I have—I know she hates me, my drinking has seen to that, and she won’t be content with any divorce settlement, she wants the lot. I’ve detailed all the attempts on my life and am sending them to the police, just in case she manages to succeed in helping me to succumb to an ‘accident’. I’ve nearly been electrocuted by using a tampered-with electric drill. A week ago I was violently sick after eating a meal she had prepared.
Of course I am leaving her, but before doing so I have to sort out my affairs. If she succeeds in killing me, I want to make sure that you get my money and I’ve made a new will, in the event that I can no longer support you. However, knowing Jane she’ll contest my will, and she might well end up by getting the lot.
As you know she has a lot of good jewellery. For the past months I have successfully managed to have copies made of all her most valuable pieces, and substituted them, and in the enclosed box are the genuine pieces, which on the open market will fetch many many thousands, so I know that at least you will have that, if nothing else. Jane isn’t aware that I did this, so it’ll probably be years before she will even realise what I’ve done, so sell them as quickly as you can and for goodness’ sake, make sure they can’t be traced back to you.
Forgive me for my many weaknesses. I’m probably being melodramatic, but who knows what will happen?
I opened the other letters. The one to his solicitor appeared to be a will, leaving all his worldly goods to his daughter Victoria, signed and witnessed two weeks ago. And the one to the Chief Constable went into dates and details of attempts that he considered had been made on his life, and took the form of a sworn affidavit.
I looked at the jewellery. I’m no expert, but the diamonds looked genuine to me and there were plenty of them, and the metals seemed to be the real deal.
How do you sell jewellery with no provenance, I wondered? Selling to the wrong kind of dealer could land you in all kinds of trouble.
That’s when I remembered that in prison I had made friends with a burglar, and he had told me of a dealer in London’s Hatton Garden who specialised in giving reasonable prices for ‘tom’ (tomfoolery – jewellery), no questions asked. It looked as if I even got half as much as this lot was worth I was sitting on a fortune. In my excitement, I phoned this ‘fence’ there and then, and asked if he was still in business, and if I could call in and see him, and he agreed.
All of a sudden I had a vision of what my future could be. No money worries. I could buy a flat somewhere. I could even go back to my failed original career as a landscape painter, with a lovely big financial cushion if I couldn’t make it pay.
Next morning I resealed and posted the two letters that Ken had left in his car, but not of course the package or the letter to Ken’s daughter—no way was I sending that!
And suddenly I wondered if Ken had actually somehow tried to contact me from beyond the grave. And for some reason I knew that this time, finally, for Ken’s sake, I was going to beat my disease and that I would never ever drink again. Drink had destroyed his life, but I was now determined that it wasn’t going to destroy mine.
I mouthed a ‘thank you’ to Ken for changing my life as he had, and muttered a quick prayer for his soul.
My chief worry was safely disposing of the jewellery, that of course was the property of Ken’s widow. I certainly didn’t want to go back to prison.
Meeting the elderly ‘fence’ in a sordid back room behind his jewellers’ shop, I used all the bluster I could gather from my prison days, even name-dropping a powerful criminal acquaintance, so as to make sure he didn’t rip me off, as I knew he was likely to take liberties with anyone who wasn’t on the inside of his criminal world. I really went to town, acting the tough guy, pretending to have burgled the stuff. He suggested a price and I refused. He raised it, and I pushed him higher, until, finally, I was out in the street, sick with relief, clutching the huge bundle of readies in my hand, having got even more money than I had dared to imagine.
With a touch of pride I knew that I’d probably got several thousands more than Ken’s daughter, without any contacts, could have got on her own.
More importantly, she had not been involved in the shady transaction, so all the risk was down to me.
It was going to be a long drive to St Ives, and I wasn’t going to trust that wodge of cash to the post. Maybe I’d stay down there and try my hand at being a landscape painter again?
And do you know something?
For the first time in months I wasn’t thinking about booze. . .