Jacob Flynn (part i)

It could be argued that there’d be no good place to be come the end of the world. But you have to admit, some places would be better than others. Some places would at least give you a fighting chance of survival. The place where Jacob Flynn finds himself this morning, however, is a bad place at the best of times. Today, it’s arguably the worst place on Earth to be.

Jacob Flynn is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. Like pretty much every other inmate being held here, he’ll protest his innocence relentlessly to anyone who’ll listen. The fact of the matter is, however, that Flynn caused the death of a seventy-three year old pedestrian through his reckless driving. He’ll tell you the old man was at fault as much as he was. He’ll give you any number of entirely plausible reasons why he feels his case was handled badly, and why the judge had something against him, and why his solicitor let him down, and how, if it hadn’t been for the fact he’d caught his lying bitch of a girlfriend in bed with his best friend, he wouldn’t have been driving at almost twice the speed limit down a narrow residential road at just after two-thirty on a quiet Thursday afternoon in late November last year.

Whatever Flynn might tell you, the fact remains he was travelling too fast when he lost control of his car around a tight bend. He mounted the pavement and mowed down Eddie McDermott as he walked back to his house after a lunchtime drink with friends. The fact remains, Flynn’s driving was the sole cause of Mr McDermott’s untimely death, and in the eyes of the law he is being punished accordingly.

Flynn shares his small, rectangular cell with two other men, Suli Salman (minor drug trafficking offences and assault) and Roger Bewsey (corporate fraud). According to his mental records, he has now been locked up for five months, three weeks and a day.

It is just after eight o’clock in the morning and he’s been awake for hours.

I hate this place more with every second I spend here. I don’t know how the rest of them can handle it. There’s some that’ve been banged-up longer than I’ve been alive, but I don’t even know how I’m going to last another week. Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t got into the car that day. Every morning I wish I’d never found Elaine with that bastard Peters or that I’d never even met the bitch in the first place. We’d only been together for just over a year, and look how much it’s cost me. I’ll spend more time in here alone than we spent together. I know there’s no point thinking like this but I can’t help it. The hours are long inside, and there’s nothing else to do.

It’s the stench that always gets to me first. Even before I’ve opened my eyes I can smell the disinfected emptiness of this fucking hellhole. Then I hear it – the relentless noise from the scum in the cells around me. No matter what time it is, it’s never quiet in here. There’s no escape. It never bloody stops. I keep my eyes closed for as long as I can but eventually I have to sit up and look around this concrete and metal hell.

I shouldn’t be here.

Maybe if I’d gone a different way that day or if I hadn’t gone around to see her then I wouldn’t be here now. I’d be out there where I should be. Because of that fucking slag I’ve lost everything, and I bet she’s bloody loving it. She’s out there with him, sleeping in the bed that I paid for, wearing the clothes and the jewellery and the perfume I bought her. Bitch.

Bewsey’s snoring again. He amazes me. I don’t know how he does it. There’s a man you’d have put money on cracking up by now. He’s in his late fifties, he’s overweight, has a stutter, constantly gets picked on by the mentally-challenged thugs in here and, as far as I’m aware, he’d never been in any trouble before he got himself wrapped up in the mess that eventually wound him up in here. On the other hand, Salman, the guy in the bunk above mine, is a cocky little bastard. He’s only here for another couple of weeks. He’s in and out of these places all the time and has been for years. He’ll be out and back in again before either Bewsey or I are released.

The mornings here are hard. Some days there’s work to do, but most of the time there’s nothing. Most days we spend virtually all of the time sitting in here, locked up. That’s when it really gets to me. I’ve got nothing in common with the rest of the foul shite in here. I’ve got nothing in common with Salman or Bewsey except the fact we share this cell. I don’t have anything to talk to them about. I don’t even like them. They both irritate me. Sometimes I wake up and I can’t imagine I’ll last ‘til the end of the day. I feel like that now. Tonight seems forever away. Next week feels like it’ll never come. And I’ve got years of this to get through…

Here we go, first fight of the day. I can hear trouble a few cells down. Someone’s screaming. Sounds like they’re being strangled. This kind of thing used to shock me, scare me, even, but you get used to it quick and now it doesn’t bother me. You can’t go longer than a couple of hours in here without someone trying to—

Jesus Christ!

Bewsey just scared the hell out of me. I thought he was asleep. Shit, he just sat bolt upright looking like he’s seen a ghost or had his parole turned down again or something. Bloody hell, his face is ashen white. Something’s not right with him.

‘What’s up, Bewsey?’

He doesn’t answer. He just sits there, looking at me with this dumb, vacant look on his face. Now he’s starting to rub at the side of his neck, like he’s hurt or something.

‘You okay?’ I ask again. Being in this place has made me suspicious of everyone, no matter how harmless they might make themselves out to be. I don’t trust him. He’s either trying to trick me into getting closer or he’s gonna have a full blown panic attack. Either way I’m stopping over here, right out of the way.

‘I can’t…’ he starts, still rubbing the side of his neck. He’s looking into space, but his eyes dart up to look above me. Salman’s trying to get down from his bunk. He’s half-tripping, half-falling down. Now he’s doubled-up with pain on the floor and he’s coughing and wheezing like he can’t catch his breath. He’s dragged himself over to the toilet. Christ, he’s puking up blood. What the hell is going on here? Now Bewsey’s on his feet, still grabbing and scratching at his neck.

‘What is it?’ I ask but he can’t even hear me, never mind answer. He’s not faking. This is for real. The cell is suddenly filled with noise, both of them coughing their guts up, trying to scream for help.

Bewsey can’t breathe. Bloody hell, the poor bastard can’t get any oxygen. He’s up on his feet and he’s trying to take in air but his throat is blocked. I have to do something. I jump up and push him back down onto his bed. He tries to get up, then collapses onto the mattress. His body starts to shake and he tries to fight but all his strength has gone. I can hear Salman moaning and coughing behind me and there are similar noises coming from other cells around this one. I look back over my shoulder just as Salman falls to the ground. He smacks his head against the wall, knocking himself out cold.

Bewsey’s convulsing now and it takes all my strength to keep him down on the bed. His eyes are full of panic – as wide as fucking saucers and staring straight at me like he’s blaming me for whatever’s happening. There’s blood on his lips. Shit, there’s a dribble of blood trickling down his cheek from the corner of his mouth.

He’s stopped shaking now. Bad sign.

Fuck! He grabs my arm and he’s squeezing it so bloody hard I think he’s going to break it. Another silent scream. More spitting blood. He arches his back, then crashes down onto the bed. And now he’s not moving at all.

I just look at him for a second, then touch his neck and check for a pulse.

Can’t feel anything.

He’s dead. Jesus Christ, he’s dead.

I stare at Bewsey’s body for so long I almost forget about Salman lying on the floor of the cell behind me. I turn around and I can tell by the way he’s lying that he’s dead too. Like Bewsey, there’s blood trickling from his mouth and there’s more pouring out of a deep gash on his forehead.

And now I realise I can’t hear anyone else.

The whole bloody prison is silent. I’ve never known it like this before. I’m scared. Jesus Christ, I’m scared.

 ‘Help!’ I scream, pushing my face hard against the bars and trying to see across the landing. No one there. ‘There are men dead in here. Help! Please, someone, help!’

Shit, I’m crying like a bloody baby now. I don’t know what to do. This cell is on the middle floor. I can see the bottom of the staircase which leads up to the top landing. One of the officers is sprawled out over the bottom steps. I don’t know whether he fell or whether what killed Salman and Bewsey got to him too. Even from a distance I know he’s dead.

For more than an hour, Jacob Flynn stood in the corner of the cell in shock. He pushed himself back hard against the wall, trying to get as far as possible from the bodies of his cell mates. It was a while before the initial panic began to subside and his brain was able to function with enough clarity to start trying to make sense of the situation. What had happened to the men who shared his cell? Why was the rest of the prison silent? Why did it feel like he was the only one left alive?

A few minutes later and Flynn’s logical thought progression helped him arrive at the cruellest realisation of all. If everyone else was dead, then he was trapped. He dropped to the ground and began to sob uncontrollably, knowing there would be no exercise or work sessions today. There would be no meals, showers or classes or counselling sessions. If he really was the only one left, then this was it. His door would stay locked forever.

As the day wore on and no one else came and nothing changed, Flynn painfully began to accept that, without warning, the term of his comparatively short prison term had been dramatically extended to life. No parole, no early release… life. Paradoxically, he also knew that without food or water, his sentence would only last for days, not years.

All he could do was sit and wait.

JACOB FLYNN (part ii)



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition