Chapter 02 – The Water Meadow Man

Last Orders

1977

The night Mick Downes died, the weekend was only a quiet whisper away. Mick and Lunsford had put their coats on in preparation for leaving the Civil Service Social Club and going home. Lunsford had asked Mick if he had the negative of the photos of them and their wives, Chloé and Jeanne at the beach in Porthampton that summer. He said he’d like to get a copy developed.

Pictures of his past with his wife were his present now. He didn’t have many photographs of his Chloé. Like everybody else, for sanity’s sake, he had assumed he had all the time in the world to spend with her. Now he had so much time to spend without her, so much time left to go. Now is more than a single moment. It reaches forward, it doesn’t want to disappear.

Mick and Lunsford were draughtsmen with the county council, they had been leaving school with a brief stint in the navy fighting U-boats, sleeping with women in New York City, and facing down the Kamikazes. Both men enjoyed their jobs with the City Council. The Council Officer grades meant that they could gradually climb the salary ladder all the way to healthy pensions and quiet retirements with no fuss or bother.

Like almost everybody else in The Social, neither man talked about their war experiences. They didn’t want to, and people there knew not to ask.

One or two blowhards became loud about their exploits when they were pissed. Nobody judged them out loud. Everybody dealt with their own experiences of those excitements and horrors and boredoms, sadnesses and terrors in their own ways. For many they those things weren’t memories, they were firmly in the Now. They lived in those experiences each day. So, why give them more light, more air and sound? So, for the most part conversations were kept very much to the pleasantly mundane and everyday.

It had been a fair old Friday night, with a few pints downed, some fat chewed; darts thrown and dominoes pushed; a bit of chat about the horses and the usual mediocre state of Crosschester Rovers FC. They’d also talked about their boss, Mr Donald ‘Call Me Don’ Jarvis.

Don, as usual, had spent the week at work wandering out of his office giving unwanted advice that he’d been ordered to give by someone higher up. Both Mick and Lunsford had been at their jobs for a decade before Jarvis had arrived, what he said was rarely more than chatter.

Lunsford was a short, thin man, quiet man who loved his wife. He had no great ambitions to be anything other than contented at home, at work, at the football, in the pub and at The Social. The lines on his forehead had been driven in deep by worries, memories and concentrating on his work. When he thought about himself, which he did rarely, he liked to think he was a nice man. Chloé had said that. Chloé was gone now so nobody said that. It was a simple thing to say. Not hearing him made him feel lonely, so he got on with things. Other people thought highly of him as a colleague and as a friend. His wife, Chloé, had loved him.

Mick once had ambitions to have kids with his wife Jeanne. This never happened. Some people mention it, Mick and Jeanne just get on with things. He concentrated on work, wife, fishing, football and never looking back unless he absolutely had to. She worked hard at the hospital, quietly going about her business. He was a tall man, taller than Lunsford anyway, and never less than dapper in a suit, with waistcoat, razor creased trousers, shined shoes. She was short put powerfully built, she was elegant and she inspired confidence in her staff. They were still in love on the night Mick died, still in love after many years.

Lunsford’s wife, Chloé had died of cancer a few years before. They’d buried her up at St Eade’s Church in Shalford. Quite a crowd had come to see her off: friends from school, friends from university, friends from the war, friends from the Shalford and Crosschester, friends from bowls and bridge and the WI, from painting and cooking and the theatre, colleagues who didn’t like her but respected her greatly, and family from all over the world who she had made sure to keep in touch with despite all the usual familial ups and downs. The reception in The Bugle pub was a good one, it didn’t go on for too long and no one misbehaved.

Mick had been guiding him back into the world, pint by pint, game by game. Pint by pint, game by game, day by day. Lunsford would never be totally whole again, not without Chloé but at least with Mick and Jeanne at his back, he could start to pick up some of the pieces.

As Mick and Lunsford stepped out of the warmth and conviviality of The Social and into the cold of Water Lane. It was 11:30pm. The snow blown hard by the wind from the coast was gently smothering everything in deathly quiet. The streetlights that were still working flickered and fizzed putting up a poor fight against the night.

As the chatting pair reached Kings Gate Row they saw some drunk lads scrawling chalk marks on the Guild Hall before running off, laughing.

“Wogs Out!” one scrawl.

“Pakis Go Home!” another.

“Down with the Unions! Up with the Workers” and one more.

“Fuck Foreigners!”

“Britain for the British!”

The boys had been busy.

Lunsford tutted at the vandalism. Mick was furious. Seething. He stopped for a cigarette.

“See you tomorrow, mate. I’ll bring the negatives. Sunday lunch in The Bugle with the girls?”

Lunsford nodded and put one thumb up.

Mick’s house was a 20-minute walk up past the train station, up and up the hill where the prison officers and their families lived, and across The Green, a small grassy island hemmed in by roads.

Lunsford started to cross the road to the bus station, he looked back and saw his mate leaning down to shield his match from the wind. He continued to make his way out onto the road and slipped on his front foot, sliding a little way before righting himself. He wanted to get over the road quickly to the last bus to Shalford. Otherwise, it was an eight mile walk home to his empty cottage.

Darren’s wild, baby shit yellow, broken, insane Ford Capri sped and skidded across the road, clipping Lunsford and smashing into Mick who didn’t see it coming.

Mick’s body was wrecked. Simple as that. Destroyed. The car rammed the man into the Royal Mail pillbox that stood next to the Guild Hall. Darren came through the windscreen, headfirst into Mick, off the red post box, into the wall. Their blood and flesh and bones mixed and flew at The Guild Hall wall spattering the fresh graffiti.

In the moment of Mick’s death he felt no pain but so much grief.

In the moment of Darren’s death he felt rage and outrage.

Jeanne was at home. Mick was dead. He had not seen the car sledding toward him before chopping into his legs, dragging his body into the red post box. Mick was dead, there was no question of it.

Lunsford was injured, badly so. The Capri has clipped him, breaking his legs and ribs as it made its way to Mick. Lunsford had been conscious when Mick died. He saw Mick’s death. Ugly and mundane, warm blood creating disgusting slush on the pavement. Then he passed out.

Jeanne Downes was reading a book on the sofa under the light from a tall, slender lamp at the moment before Mick’s death. She was sipping a dark rum at the moment of Mick’s death. She was relaxing, not thinking about much else other than the book and her first long weekend in months. Three whole days. Mick and she were going to try once again to get Martin Lunsford to come out of himself. Maybe a trip down to Porthampton for the sea air. They’d try to get him to talk about Chloé again. Her name had been reduced to her gravestone, it had slipped from their conversations. They were all so close before. There’d been a few difficulties over the decades, of course there had, but they were close, that couldn’t be denied.

Read the Free chapters

Prologue – Welcome to Crosschester

Chapter 01 – Darren was a skillful driver

Chapter 03 – Last Orders

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