|original picture : John Backland|
Jaz raised himself out of the wooden upright chair and swung it over to allow Matt to sit down, simultaneously grabbing a stool from by the bar to sit back on himself, towering over the others sipping their pints.
Matt had been discharged from the hospital for a week or so, but this was the first time he’d been out since. He’d broken his foot, gashed his leg deeply and suffered from some mild exposure to the weather. His wetsuit had prevented him getting too cold too quickly that night on the cliff and the doctor said it had probably stopped him getting cold enough to go into some sort of shock through hypothermia. Even so, he was shaken, the others were rattled too. Victor had called up the hospital twice a day – feeling responsible for the whole thing, it was him who’d let them have the board and he felt bad despite everyone’s reassurances. For days after the cliff top drama everyone had spent their time up at the hotel, drinking coffee and waiting to hear what was going to happen with Matt. For a while it seemed like he might even lose his foot – it had taken a battering as he tried to get away from the rocks – and the rest of his friends had nothing much that they could do apart from band together and at least look after themselves. When the news came through, via Victor’s phone, that he was likely to be alright there was muted cheering. Muted because they still felt that they should have been more on the case. Then, when he came out he didn’t want to see anyone, didn’t want to be seen, his confidence and cockiness had evaporated and for a while no-one but his mother and father had been in to visit.
Now it seemed that he was ready to face the world. He looked sheepish and uncertain, but the table fell uncharacteristically silent as he showed. He reached out, stiffly, formally almost, to Jaz first – shook his hand, trying to balance on the crutches and not fall over. Then Joe, then Dave and all around the table, whether people had been there on that night or not he knew at least that they were here now. It was Joe typically that broke the tension, as Matt reached out Joe sidestepped the handshake and gave him a full on hug – one of the crutches fell clattering to the floor and Matt toppled over into Joe's arms whether he liked it or not. A laugh rose from the table and Matt finally cracked a smile.
"Get some drinks in Jaz, I can’t quite manage the tray at the moment…" He paused, "But I reckon that its fair pay back – thanks mates"
A few mumbles came from the group about not needing any reward and that seeing him was reward enough, Jaz punctured this self effacement abruptly,
"Fair pay back – you fucker !" He laughed loud, "So that’s free drinks for the rest of my life then is it ? That sounds about fair !"
"If I could…." Matt tailed off and Jaz looked at him, reassuring him he was joking, although there was some truth in it all.
"Sit down there you bloody crip, What you having ?", Jaz wasn’t about to become caring and sharing all in one go.
They sat and slowly they started to talk about what had happened – piecing together the different angles and stories until there was some sort of coherent whole, even when disagreements and exaggerations were taken into account. Jaz was noticeably quiet whilst all this went on. He seemed to have taken on the role of Matt’s protector and kept on getting up to get more drinks in as the afternoon wore on and their sense of time wore off. When it came to him to tell his part of the story he was brief and reticent – no-one pressed him and no-one wondered why he was less than his usual loud gobby self.
It was a while before the crowd thinned and left just the four of them, Matt, Joe, Dave and Jaz, sitting in one of the darker corners of the pub. It was Joe who turned the conversation ‘round to the cliffs again.
"Jaz – y’know about that cave…" he ventured hesitantly, "the one over on the cliffs where you saw Matt…?"
"Yeah," replied Jaz, tired now of the never ending piecing together of events and desperate for another topic of conversation, "What about it ?"
"Reckon we should go and have a look at it sometime ?"
"You’re fucking mad – I nearly got myself killed last time – you too for that matter."
Matt was nonplussed, it was the first he’d heard of the cave.
"No but, I was thinking."
"Careful…" Jaz responded almost entirely out of habit. Joe ignored him and carried on.
"No – I know it might seem a bit daft but I kept thinking about it – like how come we ain’t seen it before and how long’s it been there?"
"Been there for bloody hundreds of years probably," Jaz countered, "and we ain’t seen it because no-ones been stupid enough to go near it before – that and it’s all covered with bushes half way up a fucking huge cliff face."
"Yeah but….." Joe’s voice dropped, "I know it’s daft but I wondered if there might be something in it ? Y’know, like all the time people go on about there being wrecks and smugglers and all that around here – you said it was pretty dry in there, maybe there’s something in it ?"
"Yeah dead seagulls and all the usual crap that gets washed around on a storm tide probably." Dave spoke up for the first time.
"Nah, too high up for that." Jaz reasserted himself, "It was pretty dry tho – not much in it that I could make out, mind it was dark and we did have other things on our plates at the time." He nodded dismissively at Matt who was sitting there looking tired and taking no part in the conversation.
"That’s what I mean – if its dry then there might be something worth looking at. I mean, Victor’s always gone on about there’s supposed to have been a tunnel into the hotel cellar from somewhere down on the beach, so why not have a look ?"
"What is this – famous fuckin’ five go down a cliff ? Come on Joe – it ain’t Kirrin Island out there in the bay. It’s a hole in some rock, that’s all."
"Still, wouldn’t mind a look." Joe was smiling at the put down – truth is it was all a bit Enid Blyton and secretly he still kind of believed in the promise of adventure, not that he’d admit that to Jaz. He sank the remains of his pint quite definitively and put his empty down in the middle of the table, as much a statement of intent as his next words.
"I’m going to give it a look. Thursday’s my next day off, no-one’s even about on the beach at this time of year. Who’s coming ?"
Jaz couldn’t bear to be outmanoeuvred, "OK then, I’ll knock off at about 4.30 – that OK ? Just remember that I found it first and if it is stuffed with the treasure of the Sierra Madre then it’s mine. OK?" He grinned, borne along on Joe’s ideas, he quietly wondered if there might be something worth investigating. "You need someone strong to hold the rope anyway, you’re too fat. Can you get a car up there ? I don’t fancy a repeat performance of the other week."
"Should do – what about it Dave?"
Dave had access to their mum’s car, Joe was banned from using it at the moment since he hit a sheep on the road outside the village. The sheep had been okay but the car bore the marks.
Dave agreed. Matt groaned.
"You’ll have to do it without me then – no good having a pair of crutches up there, even if I did fancy revisiting the evil bastard place. You going to tell Victor ?"
"Christ no !" said Joe, "He’d kill us – even for thinking about it he’d kill us. Anyway…."
"Anyway what ?"
"He’s away – he’s going up country to visit some woman he met over the summer – crafty sod, didn’t tell anyone but I heard him on the ‘phone the other day, he’s got a lot of secrets has Victor."
The rest of the table looked quietly impressed – and pleased – much as Victor could scare the hell out of them when he was on fire they all reckoned that he should have something more than the hotel in his life. He deserved it.
With plans made they drifted by mutual consent to the doors of the pub. The barman opened them from the inside, it was well towards midnight now. Matt hobbled through as they discussed Victor’s likelihood of ever getting off with someone, at his age, and they parted in the car park, Jaz and Matt heading one way up the hill whilst Joe and Dave wound their way unsteadily downhill and across the bay, before disappearing into the darkness of the far side of the village. A badger wandered over to where they’d been standing and sniffed at the breeze, sand swirled across the tarmac and rain threatened in the cooling air.
Give it a listen....go on !