Authors: Jamie Bowers
‘Joe? Are you awake?’ said Francis as she gently placed her hand on his back to wake him. ‘I got you something to get your energy up.’ Joe slowly opened his eyes and turned himself over onto his back.
‘My stomach, it hurts.’ He said as he rubbed his hands across his abdomen. Francis opened a bottle of tablets and placed two in Joe’s hand.
‘Take these, they should help you.’ she passed him a glass of water and he took a sip, swallowing the tablets. Francis took the glass and placed it on the bedside table next to a bowl a soup. ‘Are you hungry?’ she asked.
‘I don’t have time to eat,’ said Joe sitting up. ‘I need to get out of here and find Gina and Mary. But I need you to find out where Gordy’s keeping them.’ Francis sat on the edge of the bed and held onto Joe’s hand.
‘I’ve already followed him, Joe.’ She said. ‘It’s five in the afternoon; you’ve been asleep for almost nineteen hours.’ Joe raised his eyebrows in shock.
‘Wow! I suppose this bed is more comfortable than I thought. So what happened? Do you know where he’s keeping them?’ Francis took a deep breath as she gathered her thoughts before speaking.
‘I borrowed a car from a friend and sat outside his shop for several hours this morning, he eventually turned up with your brother and they were in there for some time. When they came out they got in a car and drove around the city, stopping at different shops and picking things up. Your brother did all the driving and just sat in the car whilst Gordy went in each shop. I followed them over the river to a warehouse on the docks. I had to keep my distance but could see the building had several men guarding it, each of them armed and never out of sight of one another.’ Joe leant forward with more intent.
‘I need to get there now.’ He moved forward and tried to shuffle his legs off the bed. Clutching his stomach once more he let out a scream of pain.
‘You are not going anywhere, Joe.’ said Francis, pushing him back onto the bed, ‘You’re in no fit state to leave the house. You need to heal before you even think about doing anything. I have to go to work tomorrow, but I swear that I will help you get better.’ Joe turned onto his side to get more comfortable.
‘Please, just tell me where it is and you won’t see me again.’ He asked
‘That’s what I’m afraid of,’ said Francis, ‘I don’t want you going in there half dead just for them to finish the job. Now you can either get some rest and go back to sleep or you can eat the soup. Either way, you’re staying here.’ Joe gave a smile as she gave her orders.
‘You’ll be a matron one day, Franny. You’re as tough as my old Sergeant Major.’ Francis stood from the bed, took a blanket from the floor and draped it over Joe’s legs.
‘If you insist on lying on the bed in just the robe, I will try and make you feel more comfortable.’ Joe lay as he watched Francis leave the room and close the door behind her, the pain in his stomach was worse than he had ever felt before. He clutched his hands as tight as he could and curled up to try and relieve the pain, all the while trying to think of what his next move will be.
Lying on the bed in agony for several hours, Joe found that sleep wouldn’t come naturally. Maybe it was the amount of sleep he had already had or maybe it was a million thoughts running through his head like a herd of wildebeests running across the African plains. As time passed and the sun set, Joe kept staring at the light shining through the gap under his door, all the time waiting for Francis to come back and tell him more about where Gina and Mary were being held.
After some time Joe heard footsteps downstairs, more than one pair of feet and this concerned him. He gently lifted his feet off the bed and onto the floor; the cold, polished wood on his bare soles reminded him of his first morning in his prison cell. Limping softly to the door he could hear voices in the hallway. He quietly opened the door and peaked through the gap but couldn’t see anything more than the well decorated walls and stairway. The voices were louder with the door open but he still couldn’t make out what was being said. Joe stepped quietly out of his bedroom and onto the landing. Fastening his robe Joe leant slowly over the railing to get a look at who was talking. He couldn’t see anyone and thought they must be in the living room so he walked towards the top of the stairs to try and get a view. Holding onto the top of the railing he arched his body out over the stairs to look. Joe could see a man sitting at the end of the sofa holding a coffee cup, but he couldn’t position himself to see his face.
‘I think I know what’s wrong with him,’ said the man, ‘but I want to get him back in the prison where I can keep him under observation.’ It was Doctor Gable. Joe couldn’t believe this, after he had put his trust into Francis she has told him that Joe is here, that must be the reason why she wouldn’t let him leave. He listened further as best he could. ‘It’s something I have only read about in medical journals and textbooks but I have never witnessed it in person. But it does explain everything.’
Joe could see Doctor Gable place his hand in his bag and pass a piece of paper over the coffee table to Francis. He tried to lean out further but his leg started to give way, causing him to lose his grip. Quickly, he grabbed the rail with his other hand and pulled his body back with all his strength. Stumbling on the top step, he fell onto the landing, hitting the floor with a thud.
‘What was that?’ said Gable as he got up and went into the hallway, ‘Is someone in the house?’ Francis quickly ran in to stop Gable.
‘It’s nothing,’ she said standing in his way at the bottom of the stairs, ‘it will just be my maid. I forgot she was here.’ Gable tried to look up to the top of the stairs but couldn’t see anything,.
It’s a bit late for here to be here, isn’t it?’ he asked. ‘Francis stepped up onto the first step to obscure his view.
‘No. It’s fine. She had a hospital appointment today so I told her she could come in tonight instead.’ Joe had managed to roll himself to the back wall, just out of view of Francis and Doctor Gable. He lay flat on his back, holding his stomach as the dull pain set in.
‘Why don’t we carry on in here?’ asked Francis gesturing to the living room. ‘I’m sure if she’s broken something we can sort this out.’ Gable walked slowly to the living room, all the while still staring at the landing.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘if you’re sure everything is okay.’ As they walked out of the hallway Joe rolled himself over to his stomach and edged towards the railing, listening as the conversation continued.
‘I didn’t know who else I could talk to about this,’ said Gable as he took his seat once more on the sofa, ‘I want to find him before it is too late.’ Joe was intrigued, wondering what they were talking about. It wasn’t easy for Joe to hear everything that was being said, he could only really make out the Doctor’s side of the conversation
‘If you hear anything at all,’ he said as he stood from the sofa, ‘you have to let me know. But don’t tell anyone else.’ Doctor Gable walked towards the front door; Joe ducked out of view as he left. Francis escorted him out.
‘Thank you for letting me know.’ She said as she closed the door.
‘Is he gone?’ said Joe from the floor of the landing.
‘Yes,’ replied Francis walking up the stairs, ‘you need to be more careful.’ She sat on the floor next to Joe and helped him to sit up with his back against the bannister.
‘Was that about me?’ he asked
‘Yes, Joe.’ She said as she nervously picked her fingernails. ‘Doctor Gable doesn’t know that you’re here but we can only talk to one another about what happened or else we will both lose our jobs. He says that you have something wrong with your stomach.’
‘I could have told you that.’ Joe interrupted as he tried to get comfortable. ‘So, what is it?’ he asked, ‘An ulcer?’ Francis picked at her nails, all the while refraining from any eye contact with Joe.
‘You have cancer, Joe.’ She said as a tear rolled down her cheek. ‘He thinks that it started in your liver and has progressed through your body and maybe to the brain, this could be why you have been imagining things that aren’t really there.’ Joe sat silent, not sure of what to think. ‘This is dangerous stuff, Joe.’ Francis said as she reached her hand out to his, ‘I am here for you but I need you to promise that you will stay here, at least until you’re better.’ Joe raised his hands to his face and let out a cry, sobbing as tears dripped through his fingers and down his wrists onto the white robe he was still wearing. ‘I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, Joe. But I thought it was best I told you.’ Joe lowered his hands and sucked back the tears enough to speak.
‘Thank you.’ he said with his eyes red from emotion. Francis stood up and grabbed Joe gently by his arm.
‘You need to go to bed and rest.’ She said lifting him to his feet. ‘I will get you some more clothes when I finish work and we will talk some more.’ Joe limped to his feet and walked slowly towards his bedroom door. Turning the handle he looked back at Francis standing at the top of the stairs. Without either of them saying a word Joe went into his room and closed the door behind him. Still in darkness, the room made Joe feel alone in once again. He limped to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress, unsure of what to think. Looking out the window at the moon shining down, Joe lay on the bed and pulled the blanket over. He was shaking with emotion as he closed his eyes and tried to forget everything.
Joe wasn’t able to sleep much throughout the night, all the while his head awash with emotion. The morning sun began to shine a beam of light across the bedroom and onto the bed, his legs getting warm under the rays. He sat up in the bed and could see that the bowl of soup was still sat on the table. It had gone cold and a thin film had formed on the surface. Joe slowly slid his legs off the bed and onto the floor, easing every movement as his entire body felt numb with pain. He stood upright and fastened the robe around his waist. Limping to the door he turned he handle and looked out on the landing. He hobbled down the stairs, holding onto the rail as he went down each step. Walking through to the living room he called.
‘Hello?’ there was no answer so he went into the dining room, ‘Francis, are you here?’ still no answer. Joe assumed she had gone to work and he was left alone for the day. He opened the sliding door at the back of the dining room to reveal the kitchen. A grand room with polished worktops and gleaming handles, cleaned spotlessly from edge to edge. Joe stepped over to the worktop in the middle of the kitchen where he saw a piece of paper. It had been folded in half with his name handwritten on the outside. Picking it up, he opened it and read it to himself:
I have gone to work and will be back later tonight. I’ve given the cleaner the week off so you don’t have to worry about anyone finding you. Please don’t answer the phone or the door and make sure you stay in the house. There is food and drink in the cupboards if you fancy something. Don’t worry about making a mess, I will sort it out when I get home.
Take care and make sure you rest,
The kiss at the end of the note made Joe smile, he was so happy that he still had a friend after all that had happened. Joe folded the note back up and placed it back on the counter. He limped over to the cupboards and opened a couple of doors. Taking a glass from one he placed it in the sink and filled it from the tap. Holding the glass to his mouth he drank it so fast he couldn’t get enough. He filled the glass again and again, drinking several pints of water before stopping. He placed the glass on the counter and wiped his hand across his mouth to catch the drips of water as they ran down his chin. He walked over to the fridge and opened the door to see an array of fine meats, cheese and desserts, enough to feed a banquet. He took out a plate of ham and stood over the counter as he devoured every last scrap, like a lion demolishing a fresh carcass. Before he knew it, the plate was empty and his face and hands covered in honey glaze from the ham. Joe rinsed his hands under the tap and wiped them down his bathrobe. He slowly limped back through to the living room and sat gently onto one of the sofas. The piece of paper that Doctor Gable had left was still lying on the table. Joe picked it up and started to read, it was overflowing with long words he couldn’t pronounce or understand. The main things that he picked out were the words “cancer”, “inoperable” and “death”. This quickly rung true in Joe’s mind and the reality of the situation became all too much. He screwed up the piece of paper and in a rage threw it into the unlit fireplace. With tears running down his face, he felt awash with emotion, adrenalin pumped through his veins giving him anger and determination. He stood as quickly as his leg would let him and walked upstairs to his bedroom. Laying himself on the floor, he raised his feet onto the edge of the bed.
‘Here goes.’ He said to himself as he placed his hand either side of his head and pulled his torso towards his knees. Dropping backwards, his head hit the hard, wooden floor as the pains in his stomach stopped him from doing the sit-up with success. ‘It’s only pain,’ he said to himself, trying to do another sit-up, ‘it is for the weak.’ He pulled himself forward once more and let out a cry as his chest met his knees. Letting go once more he hit the floor harder than before. This didn’t stop Joe as he pulled himself up, again and again. After around thirty sit-ups he got to his feet the best he could and walked to the doorway. Gripping his fingers on the edge of the frame he pulled himself up and then lowered down gently, making sure not to touch the floor. He did this several times until he could feel his heart was going to burst out of his head. He repeated the cycle of the two exercises for several hours until he heard the front door close.
Making sure that the gown was wrapped tight around his waist; Joe walked to the top of the stairs and looked down to see Francis standing at the front door with several bags of shopping.
‘It was fun shopping for you,’ she said as she lifted the bags to show how much she had done. Still holding the bags in both hands she ran up the stairs and greeted Joe at the top, ‘Are you okay?’ she said looking at his face dripping in sweat, ‘You look warm.’ Joe dabbed his sleeve across his forehead.
‘Oh this?’ he said as he wiped his face, ‘Just had a bit of a bad dream, that’s all.’ Francis looked at him with concern.
‘As long as you say you’re alright, I don’t want you to worry about anything on your own.’
She placed the bags on the floor and took some items out, ‘Look at this,’ she said holding up a cream and beige shirt, ‘I thought that you would look great in this.’ Joe held out his hand and rubbed the material between his fingers. It felt soft to the touch, better than anything he could ever afford.
‘Don’t just look at them,’ Francis said as she placed the shirt back in the bag, ‘these are for you.’ She picked the bags back up from the floor and walked into Joe’s bedroom, ‘Get dressed and I will make us something nice to eat.’ She said as she tossed the bags onto the bed.
‘You don’t have to do this.’ Joe said as he followed her into the bedroom.
‘I know I don’t have to,’ she said as she walked past him towards the stairs, ‘but I want to.’
Joe walked into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. As night was closing in, he turned on the bedroom light for the first time, illuminating the glamorously decorated walls and furniture. Picking up the shopping bags, he tipped the clothes onto the bed. A range of mostly dark colours in every bag, with the exception of one bag that had socks and underwear, perfect for Joe to feel a bit more comfortable. He pushed the clothes across the bed and sat on the edge. Slowly slipping the bathrobe off his shoulders he picked up a pair of the underpants. Lifting his left leg slowly, he slipped his foot into the underpants and pulled them up over his dressing and to his knee before putting his right foot in and pulling them the rest of the way up. The soft cloth felt nice and fresh, Joe couldn’t wait to put on the rest of the clothes. Putting on the socks and a pair of black denim jeans, Joe stood up and put on the cream and beige shirt that Francis had shown him earlier. It was obviously an item she was fond of getting for him so he felt only right to be wearing this first. As he fastened the buttons up the front, he took a look at himself in the mirror. The clothes were the right size from what he always had before but they seemed to hang from his thin frame.
As he looked down at his body he felt like a new man, a free man, but he knew that this wouldn’t last long. Joe walked out of his room and into the bathroom where he had left his shoes before. Sliding his feet into the shoes and tying the laces, it seemed to finish off the outfit, making him feel happy. He went downstairs, still limping as he held the rail with both hands, the smell of food once again filling the air as he went. As he stepped onto the solid wood floor, he could see the fireplace alight, throwing flames up the chimney breast. He walked closer into the living room and could see Francis in the dining room placing things on the table.
‘I thought we would eat in here tonight.’ She said as she placed a jug of water in the centre. Joe walked through to the dining room and gently lowered himself onto a seat at the end of the table.
‘It smells good.’ He shouted through to Francis in the kitchen.
‘Tonight we have,’ she said as she walked in with two plates of food. ‘beef in a red wine sauce with an assortment of vegetables.’ Placing the dish in front of Joe, she sat down in the adjacent seat.
‘This is very elegant,’ said Joe as he took in the aroma, ‘is this as close to regular food that you get?’ Francis smiled as she sprinkled pepper over her dish.
‘Well, this was something that my Uncle’s cook used to do for me when I came here and I enjoyed it, minus the red wine of course. She would teach me how to cook and this was the first thing I learnt.’ Joe picked up his knife and fork and pressed them into the beef, it fell apart perfectly showing the pink centre as the sauce soaked in. The vegetables were soft and full of flavour, just like the beef they were flawlessly cooked. Unlike when he ate the pasta, Joe savoured every bit of the meal, he knew that Francis had put a lot more effort into this just for him and he wanted to show his appreciation. Whilst they ate, no words were exchanged as they both valued every mouthful as if it was the last.
After they finished and the last bit of food was swallowed, Joe decided to be the first one to break the silence.
‘That was just amazing. I can’t believe that you are doing all of this for me.’ He said as he placed his cutlery across his plate.
‘I told you before,’ Francis said as she poured water into their glasses, ‘I am doing this because I want to. I don’t want you to be alone, Joe.’ Joe reached his hand across the table and placed it over Francis’.
‘I don’t know what you are going to get out of this, but I assure you that nobody will ever know that you helped me.’ Francis placed her other hand onto his and rubbed her thumb across the back.
‘I just want to know that I helped, nothing more.’ Francis quickly stood up, ‘Why don’t we change the mood a bit and have some fun?’ She said as she grabbed a bottle from behind the drinks cabinet, ‘How about some rum and music?’ She trotted over to a gramophone in the corner of the room and moved the needle onto the record. The music started to play and the volume echoed through the house. The soft sound of jazz music played, Francis swayed her arms and body as she walked over to Joe. She placed the bottle of rum on the table and grabbed Joe by both his hands.
‘Why don’t we see how good your leg is?’ she said as she pulled him to his feet.
‘I don’t really dance,’ said Joe as he limped onto his leg, ‘I haven’t since my wedding day.’ Francis held Joe’s hands out at the side, stretching his reach as far as she could.
‘Just move your body with the music,’ she said as she move him side-to-side, ‘it’s easy when you let yourself go.’ Joe felt stiff and awkward as Francis pulled him around like a ragdoll.
‘I can’t really dance,’ he said as she moved her head to the music, ‘especially with my leg.’ The rhythm of the music slowed and became more of a relaxed beat.
‘This could be better for you.’ said Francis as she picked up the bottle of rum and swallowed a large mouthful. She put her hand on Joe’s waist and with the other held out his arm to one side, ‘Nice and slowly,’ she said as she shuffled her feet around his, ‘just follow my lead.’ Joe tried to sway with the music, but didn’t feel comfortable.
‘Maybe I need a drink.’ he said as he reached out his hand and grabbed the bottle. Lifting the bottle to his mouth, he tipped his head backwards and took a large mouthful of rum. He coughed as the drink ran down his throat.
‘Jesus Christ!’ he said as he stepped backwards, out of Francis’ arms, ‘That is strong shit.’ Francis couldn’t help but laugh at Joe as his face turned purple with coughing.
‘Maybe you should drink something else.’ Francis said as she walked over to the drinks bar.
‘No, it’s okay.’ Said Joe still holding the bottle, ‘If you can do this, I can too.’ Joe lifted the bottle once more to his mouth and drank for several seconds as nearly half the bottle disappeared. As he lowered the bottle he looked at Francis with glazed eyes, she grabbed the bottle out of his hand and he fell instantly onto his back, his head bouncing off the wood floor.
‘Maybe I need to lie down.’ He said laughing as he stared at the ceiling. Francis took another large mouthful of rum from the bottle and placed it on the table. She stumbled over to Joe and grabbed him by the hands. She leant backwards and tried to lift him but he was too heavy. As she pulled his arms, Francis was only dragging around the floor. As she pulled and struggled they both laughed uncontrollably, Francis lost her grip on Joe’s hand and fell onto her backside with a thud.
‘I think I need to get somewhere more comfortable.’ said Joe trying to steady himself to his feet. He stumbled up onto both feet, putting more pressure on his right leg and limped into the living room. Collapsing quickly onto the sofa, he let out a sigh as he regained his breath, ‘You do know how to have a good time.’ He said to Francis who was still sitting on the dining room floor.
‘Well,’ she said as she stood up, ‘sometimes you need to forget about your problems and the drink helps.’ She grabbed the bottle from the table and stumbled into the living room. She placed the bottle on the table and collapsed on the seat next Joe.
‘Forgetting your problems is not the answer.’ Joe said as he took the bottle and had a sip, ‘Facing them head-on can be better than hiding away.’ He passed the bottle to Francis and she had a drink.
‘Is that what you are going to do? Face them head-on with no other thought?’ Joe shuffled himself up in the seat and lifted his leg onto the coffee table.
‘I need to get this sorted first,’ he said pointing at his leg, ‘and then I will sort things out. And after that, you will never need to see me again, because I’ll be long gone with my family.’ Francis placed the bottle gently on the coffee table and turned to Joe, he could feel that the tone of the conversation was about to change.