Strange unwelcome letters containing mysteries and rabbit holes belong to the movies and television. They don’t belong to Jason’s morning.
Jason’s morning involves waking three kids, dressing them, feeding them and watering them. A race against the clock to marshal a four-year-old, a six-year-old and an eight-year-old around the house fulfilling vital ablutions, collecting all essential supplies and then corralling them in the entrance hall for final checks and guiding them into the car. His wife, Janice was working 'lates' this week so it all had to be completed in a pantomime of silence. Jason was under the illusion his life was regulated and under perfect control. It was the opposite it was pure pandemonium. Heading out to the car he collected the mail, he looked through the normal bills, flyers and unsolicited post. He paused, at the back was a handwritten brown envelope. As he climbed into the car his three girls, Cassie, Amy and Bea had burst into a cacophony of noise. This rush of sound was his true alarm clock, clearing out the silence of sleep and welcoming the new day. Placing the strange letter on the passenger seat, he started the car and the school run was under way.
The mysterious brown envelope was nagging at Jason. Soon after dropping the kids at school he pulled into a layby. The handwritten address looked both strange and yet familiar. The lettering was exaggerated almost as if it was trying to be something it wasn’t. Tearing open the envelope a single large photo slipped past his grasp and into the foot well. He picked it up and gasped. It was a photo of a derelict barn; half the roof had collapsed. Standing on one of the high roof beams with his back to the photographer was a figure in a brown jacket. A chill shot up his spine. Jason could not see the figure’s face; he still knew who it was and the location. He was looking at a dead man. He turned the photo over and read the reverse. In the same writing was the words ‘the drunken bricklayer’ and underneath that was the name ‘Susie’s’.
Jason knew who the figure was. It was Matt, Matt Castle.
Four years ago Matt died in a house fire. Jason had helped to carry the coffin. He had known him from school. Matt was funny and engaging, but firmly on the outside. Unlike the other outsiders at school who would have loved to have been accepted by the cool kids, Matt wanted to be an outsider. He seamlessly drifted in and out of every group never staying in any, never settling or putting down roots. He kept his own company but regularly gravitated towards Jason. They sat together on the bus as at some point there would be a time in the journey when all the seats were full. Jason always felt Matt chose to sit with him so this inevitability of situation was something he controlled. Matt was engaging, asked questions and pried Jason out of his shell. Jason knew it was Matt’s presence and small patronage that made these years easier for him.
They only fell out once. Jason asked Matt to be his best man. For Jason, Matt was the ‘best man’, he wanted to be like him. Matt refused.
“What’s your problem. Are you too cool to be my best man?” Jason felt the shock of the rebuttal turning quickly into anger.
“No, not at all.”
“Because you aren’t cool. You are just a sad loner; pathetic totally pathetic.”
“Don’t make me do it. If you make me, I’ll accept. I just don’t want to do it. It’s not No, just a please, please, No.”
“Just, Fuck off.”
After that they did not speak for three months. Matt tried but Jason ignored him. Then one day returning back to his flat at 2am after a night out. Matt was at his doorstep with kebab and chips for two and a bottle of Port. They reconciled and Matt even served as a groomsman at the wedding. Things were never the same again. They still sporadically met up but the meetings started to get further and further apart. Then he died.
Landing firmly back into the present day; Jason realised he was crying. He loved Matt. Not in that way, it was spiritual. He truly missed him drifting in and out of his life. Growing up in Jason’s world loving a friend as a friend was not encouraged. It was not spoke of.
Jason picked up his phone.
“Hello, I’m not coming in, tell the gaffer that I’m emailing in my two articles immediately. Get Clarke to represent me at the meeting. It’ll be good practice. I have a lead to follow up. I’m on the phone if there is a problem.”
Being a journalist has its benefits.
The photo was from an old abandoned farm about thirty kilometres away. Matt liked to bug out and live off the land for fun. The ruined barn was his favourite local spot. If you could not find him. If he had gone completely AWOL, there was a chance he would be found there. It was here that Jason found him when Matt’s mother died. No one could reach him. Jason was repeating the same drive he did on that day except this time he was chasing a ghost. Back then he found him cooking rabbit inside the ruined barn. Would the same happen today?
Jason had a surprise when he pulled up to the gate to the derelict farm. It was gone. There was a new road and a new housing estate full of ugly cheap new builds. If the farm was gone would the barn still be there? Jason parked the car and walked round the estate trying to work out where the barn was. It was impossible the roads all snaked around into and away from each other like a maze. The landscaped had been terraformed beyond recognition. Teenagers stared at him as they drove past on their bikes. He called out to one for help but got given the finger as the young hooligan cycled off.
After thirty minutes of aimlessly walking around looking for inspiration he ended up at a fleet of shops. There was a convenience store, a doctor’s clinic, a hairdressers and a café. Jason pulled the photo out and took another look at the back of the photo. He had his first clue. The café was called Susie’s.
The café was a greasy spoon. It specialised in cooked breakfasts and offered over fifty different combinations of egg, bacon and sausage with a multitude of extra add ons. There were thousands of clones of cafes just like this one all over the United Kingdom. Whoever Susie was she had added a feminine touch with a glass cabinet of homemade cakes and some more refined sandwich options. It was however nothing more than glamourous truck stop café far away from any trucks.
Jason sat at the counter. He was greeted by a striking server in a lime green frock coat and white pinafore, she had a brown bob and striking green eyes.
“What can I get you?” said the server
“Coffee and a couple of bacon rolls”.
For a late morning lunch it was busy and the main rush would not even start for another hour.
She placed Jason’s coffee down in front of him and gave him a cursory look up and down.
“You are a new face, what brings you around here.”
“I’m on a wild goose chase.”
“Looking for anything in particular?”
“Things that are not here.”
“Maybe there is something I can help you with.”
“I don’t think so. Unless you have a time machine.”
The server looked again at Jason with an amusing glint in her eye.
“I am all out of those this week, I have some arriving after the weekend.” Smiling she continued. “Come back then.”
Then she was gone, running plates from the kitchen into the dining area. Jason thought about his wasted morning and why he had been so compelled to drop everything and run off looking for adventure. Well that’s what it felt like when he was chasing a story which had not revealed itself yet. When he just followed the clues until the story was appeared like pirate’s treasure sitting at the end of the rainbow. He knew here it was different, this was not quite adventure, no matter how similar the feeling was. This had something personal to it. He just could not place what he was looking for; redemption maybe.
Jason came back to his senses as his bacon rolls arrived. Reaching for the ketchup he said to the server.
“So you must be Susie.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Why you seem to be the one in charge?”
“Susie does not exist, she is a creation; an idea.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When the owners brought the café, it was called 'Fat Sam’s', 'Susie's' and a paint job is a little more welcoming, it brings in a better range of customers.”
“Maybe there is something you can help me with?”
“Go on, but be quick we are getting busy.”
“Is there a pub around here called ‘The Drunken Bricklayer'”.
She froze, she was grabbing a cloth and fresh cutlery to clear a table.
“It’s not a pub,” she said.
Then she was off. Jason tracked her as she danced around the tables clearing plates and serving new ones. She moved with the coordination and choreography of a dancer. She disappeared in and out of the kitchen. Jason could see her one moment then she was gone.
“It’s not a pub.”
Jason jumped. He was facing into the café and the server was back behind the counter.
“That’s The Drunken Bricklayer”
Her hand was pointing up at some shelves full of bric-a-brac right in the middle was this unusual glass vase.
Jason could see it was art glass, post war. It looked like three glass blocks that had been assembled by a….. a drunk. The name was genius. There was something about it that just made you want to take a closer look. It hypnotised you. Now it had been pointed out to him he could not stop looking at it. It became his new focal point.
The server was buzzing around with purpose and direction. Jason stopped her.
“Tell me more.”
“I can’t, I really can’t it is just not possible, we are getting too busy. Later I can... after lunch.”
“Just something, anything.”
“What’s your name?”
She grabbed a chair standing on it over by the shelves. She picked up ‘The Drunken Bricklayer’ and removed three envelopes from underneath it. She scanned through them until she found the one she was looking for.
“I never caught your name”, said Jason
“That’s because I did not give it.”
Climbing down, with a nimble energy Jason could only be envious of her energy and youth. She presented him the envelope. Jason’s froze. He felt for the second time that morning ice crawl up his back. His name was on the envelope. He looked up into the server’s eyes.
“The rest must wait,” she said.
Jason’s hands were trembling, this was bizarre. This now felt like a game he did not want to play. He opened the envelope to look what was inside. The server spun round to give him another insightful nugget of information. It was too late. The seat was empty a ten-pound note was resting under his empty coffee mug. Jason had gone.
This is going to be part of a series, the name 'Chasing Whitefriars' refers to the company that manufactured the 1960s glass vase. The initial idea was to have a different piece of Whitefriars glass feature as a plot element and serve as the title for each chapter.
I now hand the second part of the story over to Joey Lowe.
You can enjoy the second part here...
About the Creator
Raised in the UK by an Irish mother and Scouse father.
Now confined in France raising sheep.
Those who tell the stories rule society.
If a story I write makes you smile, laugh or cry I would be honoured if you shared it and passed it on..
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