Dear reader, what I am about to tell - no, show you - will change your life forever. And the lives of your children. And your children’s children. What I am about to show you is the truth. Fiction would be more believable. Fiction, you would like. Fiction, you would prefer. Maybe not now, but when I’m finished, you will see, and you will curse my name for ever
revealing this truth. Now, open your eyes and read the words written here. And when you are finished, you will realise that you have never opened your eyes.
Russ Gurnhill, April
It was in September of ’06 that this all began. Well, I say it all began, but I suppose I
should say; when it all began for me. My God, but how I wish it hadn’t. And there I go, calling reflexively on a deity that I now know for certain never existed. How the mind bends and warps with knowledge. I am now of the cursed who have that knowledge.
Not long now, not long.
I was on leave from work after an RTA. That’s a road traffic accident if you didn’t know. Some young druggie had decided to play chicken at a crossroads I was patiently waiting at; a lady on the main road had totalled the druggie’s car, then diverted into mine, almost as an afterthought, glancing across the bonnet and on into the undergrowth, taking most of my front end with her. We all survived; the accident and the recriminations and altercation afterwards, and by the time the police arrived, several things were obvious. The guy was so juiced on hash, that his reactions and judgement were near as dammit
nil. None of us were injured (although whiplash laid me low a short time afterwards); a small mercy. Perhaps the biggest mercy, and most important fact was that we were all insured. Ok, so the hash-toker only had third-party, but, they’ve still got to pay out; there was no way that he could not plead liable as the responsible driver. Strange, that. He was the responsible driver, even though he was obviously the least responsible driver there. Hmm. So, the cop dragged him off, we all arranged transport home one way or another, leaving the tangled, mangled remains where they were; and I nipped into casualty for a check-up on this nagging ache that started in my neck and shoulders.
‘Classic whiplash, sue the s-o-b’ is the advice I get at the hospital. So I set these wheels in
motion, thinking that maybe Tesco - for it is they who insured the s-o-b - are perhaps going to regret insuring these people. Stick to what you know, incarnate.
So, I’m sitting in front of the TV, sifting through the details of forms I’m filling for the insurers, car-hire, car-hire insurers, insurer’s solicitors, and every other man and his dog, and I’m kind of half watching this documentary on the twin towers. Or is it Twin Towers? It always amazes me how these events can suddenly throw so much importance onto the mere minutiae of life, like spelling; as if Capital Letters can impart the gravity of the situation. How can anything sum up the gravity of that situation? I don’t know a person who saw it who doesn’t remember how they felt as they watched the story unfold. This was Kennedy for my generation. The Bay of Pigs and The Assassination rolled into
But I digress.
I’m sitting there, reliving the two experiences (the Twin Towers and The Crash) when there’s a knock on the door. When I open it, the postman’s standing there, looking as bored as ever, holding forth a parcel as if it’s a package of Anthrax that he wants rid of. He pushes it at me and grunts, ‘signiture’, as if there’s more than one ‘I’ in the word. Taking the grubby, chewed-ended pen from a hand that was just as abused, I barely get through two-thirds of my signature before he drags the board from beneath the still-flowing ink, wrestles the pen from my airborne hand, turns and stalks off. I guess the post office now believe that my signature ends two-thirds of the way through my name with a strange flourish that resembles a line going vertically down to the bottom of the page. Whatever
happened to service, and job-satisfaction?
So, I return to the lounge just in time to catch the South Tower crumbling. I stand and watch it, little realising how prophetic this moment is. Turning the bulky package, wrapped in brown paper - I didn’t realise that the stuff really existed - I search for postmarks. Lincoln, six days earlier, despite the first-class postage. I suppose I should be grateful that I received it at all, and undamaged. Although I would later perhaps wish that I hadn’t.
Carefully easing a finger under the edge, I manage to lift the well-wrapped and taped paper apart, and slowly reveal a set of notebooks, dog-eared and well-thumbed. I’m intrigued, as I stand there, with someone else’s words held unknowingly and ignorant in the palms of my hands, watching the North Tower crumble, slowly at first, then accelerating to a finality and historical full-stop that would see the world changed, for ever.
How little I knew…
Here, I present the words I received on that fateful day, September 11, 2006. They have been re-written, for the journals were not easily deciphered. How I wish I hadn’t. I have done the best that I can to string the narrative together from the information I gleaned in the months that followed that knock upon my door. Any mistakes are my own, but honest. I can do little else now, but hope. You cannot imagine how hollow that small word sounds in my throat. Hope. How to hope when I know the futility of us all. But you shall see. You shall learn, and with that knowledge, you may not gain understanding, but you will gain
something. Perhaps, like me, you will wish you never had. Perhaps, as I cursed the name of James Tollrington, you shall grow to curse mine. I can only apologise and say, whatever damnation you call down upon my head, I have already received it. Tenfold.
I go now, to the sands. Read on
James Tollrington felt the familiar vibration in his trouser pocket and frowned. As always, he had turned the phone to silent-vibrate-only before the test began, but the fact that he couldn’t stop to answer it still niggled him. And he had no idea why the office would be ringing him today. Looking at the test-paper secured on the clipboard in his hand, he mentally added the trainee’s points and smiled to himself. Twenty-one. With only one pallet left to go, the driver would have to do extremely badly now to fail. However, James knew from experience that it was possible. Fork-lift truck driving was a discipline that required constant awareness and concentration; the slightest distraction could cause so much damage. James had seen the after-effects of FLT accidents - bent beams, damaged goods and pallets, even the injuries caused by, not just bad drivers, but simple lapses of concentration by decent, experienced men (and women, he added, mentally, thinking back to the dozens of lady-drivers that he had trained and tested over the years).
‘One-hundred percent concentration, one-hundred percent of the time, and constant all-round awareness’ is what he preached, and he was a strict instructor and examiner; so the reputation that preceded him told. A reputation that was well-earned. But, as James’ drivers who passed under him attested, he’d never trained a bad one. No, those, he failed. He probably had the biggest fail rate of any instructor he knew, which sometimes made him unpopular with the employers whose men he was training. Tough, he thought. No-one wants to work around a less than competent driver, and he was damned if anyone was going to pressure him into dropping his standards just to suit their staffing levels.
He watched intently as Bill inserted the last pallet into the racking space, six metres up, and carefully checked all around him before reversing up, his forks clean and free. After the hydraulics were back in travel position and Bill was once more awaiting instruction, James approached the quietly perspiring driver.
‘Park the truck outside of the aisle, and dismount in the correct way, please Bill,’ he instructed quietly.
Standing in the staff-room, James pulled the mobile from his pocket and looked at the missed call ID. Frowning, he pressed the dial-button.
‘Who the hell’s this?’ he mumbled to himself as he waited for the call to connect. The number was a landline, but not local, so it probably wasn’t a job request.
As he heard the ringing begin on the other end of the line, he thought back to the face-splitting smile on Bill Howdon’s face, as he pumped James’ hand and gushed his thanks. James had replied as he always did to successful trainees. ‘I did nothing but show you how to do it - you got on there and showed your ability. I just stood and watched and marked you. Now you start to learn, out there in the warehouse. Don’t-’
‘Good Morning. Steven and Hemp Solicitors. How may I help?’
Solicitors? What the hell?
‘Oh, hi. My name’s James Tollrington. You rang me a short while ago. Or, I mean-’
‘One moment please,’ and the futile tones of some violin concerto drifted into James’ ear.
James’ mind raced as he listened to the tinny tones permeating his eardrum. Solicitors? What on earth could possibly warrant a solicitor contacting him? He shrugged. He’d soon find out when someone finally picked up the damn phone again.
‘Hello?’ The voice was female, and light.
‘Oh, hi. I’m James Tollrington. I had a missed call from you?’
‘Of course, Mr Tollrington. Sorry to keep you.’
‘No, no. That’s ok.’
‘Thank you. My name is Maisie Bowe.’ She cleared her throat. ‘We have instructions here
as to an inheritance-’
‘An inheritance, sir. As surviving family member, you are the beneficiary, it would seem.’
‘Hold on.’ James’ mind was truly racing now, as confusion grabbed a hold of it. ‘Are you sure it’s me? I mean, I’m an only child - well, I wasn’t, but I am now. Sorry,’ he paused and took a long breath. She was obviously allowing him time for the information to sink in and for him to gather his thoughts.
‘I’m still here.’
‘I - I have no idea-’
‘Might I suggest something, Mr Tollrington?’
James was still reeling.
‘Oh…oh, sorry. Yes, sorry. Go on.’
‘Perhaps you could meet me at our offices. I could then furnish you with the details, and
we could discuss the options open to you.’
‘Yes, sir.’ She paused as if thinking. James took another deep breath, trying to calm his suddenly jumping heart.
‘Look. I’m here till five-thirty every day, Monday to Thursday. I realise that this is obviously quite out of the blue for you, so why don’t you come over to our offices as soon as you can, and we’ll discuss the matter. I’m sure that everything will become much clearer once you’ve read the paperwork and I’ve had a chance to go through the details with you. Alright?’
‘Sure, sure.’ James' mind was still racing.
‘Alright then. Our address is - do you have a pen and paper handy?’
James flipped open his instructor’s folder and pulled a pen from his high-visibility jacket.
‘Okay, I’m ready.’
‘The address is, 17 Silver Street, Sheffield. It’s a large building on the right. It’s a one-way street, and there are parking facilities around the back, accessible from the main street.
‘Fine, fine. Ok.’
‘Is there anything else I can help you with over the phone, sir?’
‘Erm…just who has-’
‘I think that, under the circumstances - I mean, this has obviously come totally out of the blue for you- I think that we really should meet, sir. Alright?’
James admitted defeat, his mind a swirling mass of emotions already.
‘Erm…ok. I suppose-’
‘Thank you Mr Tollrington. I shall look forward to meeting you.’ The phone went dead.