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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.

THE AUTUMN SERIES