SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.
There is a deafening scream of brakes as Bodie takes the corner wide throwing me against the passenger door.
"Don't lose them!" I yell, the Cortina before us disappearing into the distance.
"Don't….intend to." Bodie's face is set with grim concentration, intent on persuing our quarry as we are led away from the outskirts of London. The streets quickly peter out into more open countryside and still the Brayshaw brothers ahead of us show no sign of slowing down.
"Where the hell are we?"
"God knows," I reply. "How's the petrol doing?"
Bodie glances at the dial. "Not good. We're nearly out."
Balancing with one hand on the dashboard and the other on the seat I grab the radio and try to peer out of the window for a clue as to our whereabouts.
"4-5 to base. Still in persuit of the Brayshaws. We need back up. Our current location is…" I catch sight of a railway station sign. "Thunderlee. I repeat, Thunderlee."
We tear through the village and turn into a high hedged lane. The Brayshaw brothers career ahead and start to pull further away from us. Visions of meeting a tractor or worse still a horse and rider on these rural lanes fill my mind.
"Bodie, give up!" I scream. "It's too dangerous."
"Bodie, slow down!"
The car ahead bends to the right just as there is an almighty bang from our car and then Bodie is struggling to control it. I remember him swearing and telling me to hang on as we plough through a wooden five bar gate at the end of the lane into what appears to be an overgrown field. There are a few moments where everything seems to go in slow motion as the wheels leave the ground. I have a vague recollection of sky and water as the car twists violently in the air and then there is a silence and a nothingness.
I find myself face down in tall grass inhabiting a hazy world between reality and something akin to a dream. 'Where am I? What's happened?' Shakily on my feet and looking around I see the remains of the wooden gate hanging on its hinges and everything comes rushing back to me in a blind panic. Where's the car? Where's Bodie? Neither are anywhere to be seen. I stand in a state of sudden mental confusion wondering if it's all a dream as nothing seems real. Has he continued after the Brayshaws? Surely not. I'm pretty sure I was out cold, for how long I've no idea but surely Bodie wouldn't have left me and gone after them. No, I tell myself, don't be ridiculous, of course he wouldn't have. Perhaps he thought I was badly injured and has gone for help. But no, I reason, he'd have used his radio and stayed with me. Then where is he?
I scan my surroundings and take in a huge body of water ahead of me just as the sound of an enormous bubble breaks the surface and, in the aching silence that follows I realise the car's gone in the lake. Has Bodie?
"Bodie!" I scream over and over, running towards the lake hoping to find him in the grass but knowing in my heart he's gone in with the car. 'Oh, Christ.'
Tearing off my shoes and jacket I plunge into the lake oblivious to the deep water's coldness. Visibility is almost non existent and it seems to take forever for my eyes to adjust. And then suddenly I see the vague outline of what can only be our car. It's landed on its wheels and my heart lurches with a mixture of dread and relief when I see the shape of Bodie still sitting in the drivers seat. The passenger door is wide open and I swim in. He seems to be alive but only just for there is recognition in his eyes when I roughly shake his arm. What's he still doing here? Why hasn't he swum out? As the last bubbles of air leave him I press my lips to his and pass him what little air I have left and then shoot up to the surface again.
Taking in a huge lungful of air I return to give him most of it and he seems to come more to his senses. I put my arms under his to pull him out but he appears to fight me and in the dim light he's pointing toward his feet. I realise he's telling me he's somehow stuck but for now I haven't the air left in my lungs to investigate. I nod at him that I have understood and then, as fast as I can I head for the surface again. Delivering another large breath of air to Bodie my hand travels down his leg to his foot and finds it firmly lodged between the broken and twisted pedals. In front of his face again I put my thumb and forefinger together. He acknowledges my divers signal that asks if he's okay and then I leave him again.
I need help fast and, pulling myself out of the lake I push aside the fear of what will happen if I begin to panic. Bodie's the better diver of the two of us so I know he will keep calm. If I start to lose it it will impede the amount of air my lungs will hold and as I'm breathing for the two of us I can't let this happen.
The radio inside my jacket sparks into life when I press the button.
"4-5 to control." The resulting silence is too much to bear.
"4-5 to control. Come in!" I repeat, unable to keep the urgency from my voice.
"Control to 4-5."
"This is 4.5. I need help! 3-7 is trapped under water!"
"Your location 4-5."
"Erm?….." Where are we? My mind has gone blank.
The railway station sign suddenly flashes into my head.
"Thunderlee! The lake in Thunderlee. Have you got that, over?"
"Position noted 4-5. I'll notify the emergency services." His voice is reassuringly calm but at the same time it irritates me maybe because at the back of my mind I know the situation is hopeless. Help can't possibly come in time.
"Hurry! For God's sake hurry."
Flinging the radio down and racing to the edge of the lake I dive in again feeling that it is ages since Bodie and I shared air. His eyes are closed but they open when he feels my movement in the water beside him. Though he is still remarkably calm I know he must be sharing my fears that this is not going to end well. Dispite this I manage to smile at him confidently and then feel around his feet again, willing his foot to come free. But it remains steadfast and my pulling at it clearly causes Bodie pain for he struggles to get my attention.I know this will be making his heart beat faster using up the air quicker. Bringing my face up in front of his I touch his cheek by way of an apology and wait for him to settle again before I check he's okay and then make for the surface.
A couple more dives later and I become aware that I am beginning to weaken. I now need to take several more breaths myself before I feel sufficiently strong enough to go down again. I am also beginning to feel the cold and, if I am when I'm active, then it must be worse for Bodie just sitting there.
Spurred on by this thought I swim down beside him again but when I breathe air into his mouth I can't avoid his now questioning eyes. Where's the help? What's happening? How much longer? I feel so utterly ruthless as I completely ignore him and head upwards again as I have no hopeful answers to give him. This time it seems to take forever and is like swimming through treacle, my limbs tired and heavy. Drained of energy and very cold I tread water coughing and gasping for breath for what seems too long before I force myself back down again.
Bodie makes a feeble attempt to push me away when I try to transfer a breath to him and his eyes have answered their earlier questions and now they tell me not to come again, to save myself. He knows I am not bringing down enough air for the both of us but for me to leave him is out of the question. I shake my head at him and move away.
I break the surface of the lake again breathing in great lungfuls of air. If only I could take a break, really breathe enough air to fuel my muscles but I know I don't have that luxury. Bodie is depending on me for his very life. I take a second to listen for a sound, anything to tell me that help has arrived and that I won't be doing this on my own for much longer but there's nothing but the sound of my own gasping breathes. If I had the strength to scream and cry I would have, at the utter futility of my situation.
With the last of my summoned strength I swim back down. Bodie has his eyes closed again. He is cold and unresponsive to my touch and is either unable or refusing to take the air I attempt to pass to him. But I clamp my mouth firmly to his and force the air in. I haven't the energy to shake him awake and am forced to leave him as I feel myself on the brink of passing out. My rise to the surface is painfully slow as is the crawl to the lake's bank. I lie in the water with my head resting on the muddy edge, teeth chattering uncontrollably in the cold. 'If I can just lie here for a moment', I tell myself.'Gather my strength. Hang on Bodie, I'm coming.' But I am barely conscious and totally exhausted and when I try to move nothing happens.
I don't hear the sudden sound of sirens, I don't feel the earth vibrate under the many feet that rush towards me. I don't hear the splash of water all around me, nor the voices on the summer air ordering and commanding.
Something familiar but unwelcome attempts to pull me away from the dark towards the light. I move my head a fraction to avoid it but it is still there. As everything gets brighter so it makes itself known to me. The unmistakable smell of a hospital. 'Oh what's happened to me now.' I sigh inwardly, hating this bit. The not knowing, the failure to remember, the inability to grasp reality. It used to frighten me but not so much now as I know it will all come back to me like a clearing fog if I just wait. Yes, here it comes now. 'Oh God. Bodie!'
I realise I've spoken his name aloud for there is a firm hand on my arm as my eyes flicker open.
Turning my head slowly towards the voice I see the blurred outline of a familiar figure seated beside the bed.
"Take it easy,you 're in hospital. You were in an accident, a blow out of the tyre it would seem. I've had you both brought back from Essex to Vale General."
Cowley's very presence gives me cause for concern. He's never attended my bedside before. Hovering around medical staff in the corridor for updates yes, but never at my bedside.
"B-Bodie?" I find myself breathless and scared to ask.
"Och laddie, don't you be worrying about him. You worry about yourself."
Cowley doesn't have to say any more. I know he's understood my unasked question and his avoidance of an answer tells me all I need to know. Bodie's dead. I am devastated and sink into the pillow closing my eyes, Cowley's soft Scottish lilt fading into the background of my thoughts. Its all my fault. Why didn't I do it? One last dive, that's all it would have taken, the difference between life and death only I had been too weak in spirit to have made that difference.
I feel Cowley's hand press into my arm again and turn my head just in time to see a small smile on his face fade to sudden concern. I'm momentarily confused.
"Are you alright, my boy?"
"Dead…my fault…..should have….."
Cowley looks at me in puzzlement. "Did you not hear me, lad? He's unconscious but he's alive." He squeezes my arm reassuringly. "Bodie's alive!"
'Alive?' He gets up to leave as, once again, I reel from the shock at this unexpected news. 'Bodie's alive!'
"You get some rest." Cowley says making his way to the door.
"Where …where is he?"
"Right next door," he gestures to the left with a nod of his head. "Don't you be worrying about him. You just get some rest. I'll let someone know you're awake."
As he closes the door behind him I am hit by a sudden wave of fatigue and start to drift towards sleep as Cowley's words bounce around my mind. But I don't sleep long and wake from a fitful dream. I have too many unanswered questions. Something's just not right. Why was Cowley here? Why did I get the impression that he wasn't telling me everything?
There is a movement to my left and looking over I see a nurse watching me with concern.
"Nice to have you back with us Mr Doyle. How are you feeling?" she says, adjusting the drip above the bed.
"Fine. Do you know how my friend is? His name is Bodie."
"He's doing very well but you mustn't concern yourself with him. You've been through the wars yourself, we were all worried about you."
"I wish everyone would stop telling me not to concern myself." I tell her, beginning to feel a deep anger brewing within. I throw back the bedclothes and swing my feet to the floor as the drip line swings wildly.
"Mr. Doyle! Where do you think you are going?!"
"To find out for myself seeing as no one around here will give me a straight answer."
"Please get back into bed. You're not strong enough to get up yet and if Nurse Agnes catches you we'll both be in trouble."
"She's the ward sister in charge and she's a force to be reckoned with. She won't take any nonsense."
"Look, I'm sorry but I need to find out about my friend." When I attempt to stand the whole room starts to spin and my legs don't feel like they don't belong to me for there is no strength in them. The nurse springs forward in an effort to catch me just as I manage to flop back on the bed. Suddenly the door swings open and a voice booms out.
"Mr. Doyle! What DO you think you are doing!"
"I was just…." I look up to see a formidable looking woman standing in the doorway looking for all the world like a Russian shot put champion. Her wirey hair is swept up into a severe bun and her muscley arms that cross her chest put mine to shame.
"Get back into bed at once!"
I can see there is no way I am going to get past her even if I had the energy to do so. I do as I'm told feeling like a scolded schoolboy. Dispite her size Agnes sweeps out of the room with quite some grace.
"Have I got you into trouble….." I glance at the nurse's name badge "…Fiona?"
"Nothing I can't handle."
"Even I couldn't handle her! She's quite something!"
"Yes, but she's very good at her job." Fiona watches my face darken. "Please don't worry about your friend, he's responding very well."
"So he is alive then? I've been beginning to wonder," I confess. "I thought perhaps it was being kept from me."
"Yes, he's alive but he's been very ill. He was pulled out unconscious and suffering from severe hypothermia, as you yourself were. That can be very serious but as I say he is responding well to treatment. He's had surgery on his foot and will be out of action for several months. There are concerns however that being deprived of oxygen for so long may have left him with a degree of brain damage. We won't know the extent until he regains conciousness."
'Brain damage?' As I sink into the pillow closing my eyes Fiona rests a hand on my arm for a moment.
"That's the worse case senario. He may well have no lasting effects."
"And if he does, I mean, how will this affect him?"
"He may be slow, there will be a mental slowing down of his thought processes, maybe problems with his speech, memory and mobility but Mr Doyle, it really is too early to be thinking along these lines. Try to get some rest."
Alone now, I am racked with guilt. I can't get over the feeling that had I gone down to him just once more then Bodie may have stood a chance of a full recovery. Deprived of oxygen, Fiona had said and I was the one who had deprived him.
Taking it slowly this time I gingerly place my feet on the floor again and, gaining confidence with each unsteady step I make my way out of the room and turn left along the corridor to the room next door. As I approach the bed and lay eyes on Bodie there is a movement from him. My name forms silently on his lips as he thrashes frantically towards conciousness. I settle my hand on his forehead and he turn his head sharply towards the sound of my voice, eyes trying to focus.
"I'm right here," I tell him, my fingers pushing through his close cropped hair. He looks deathly pale.
"Ray?" His voice is barely audible.
"Yeah mate, it's me." I can't keep the smile from my face.
Bodie's forehead wrinkles as he struggles to come to his senses and it seems ages before he tries to speak again.
"He's …..dead." He whispers and although he appears to be looking at me I can tell he's not seeing me.
"Ray. Dead." My initial elation fades quickly to worry.
"No Bodie, I'm right here." But he's staring with wild eyes at the ceiling and begins to try to repeat his words.
"Ssssh, rest Bodie. Get some sleep." He continues to ramble incoherently and I'm overwhelmed by a need to get out of here. Pressing the button to the nurses station to alert them of Bodie's conciousness I slip from his room into mine and find my clothes in a paper bag beside the bed. They are damp and carry the same awful smell of the stagnant lake water that lingers on my skin and in my hair. With difficulty I pull on the jeans as the feeling of a need to escape grows.
"I'm discharging myself," I hurriedly inform the nurse on duty at a desk. "Do I need to sign anything?"
"Mr Doyle? I wouldn't advise that. You…."
"I'll take that as 'no' then." I stride off angrily down the corridor before she can call me back.
The sudden exertion and fresh air takes my breath away when I hit the street and after a few unsteady moments I find a taxi.
Inside my flat everything seems eerily still and silent. It's so quiet that I can imagine that the events of the last couple of days have never happened. For a few moments I indulge myself in this fantasy but then the rising smell of wet jeans dispels this in an instant and I tear them off and head for the shower. The hot water turns brown as the mud and dirt wash through my hair. 'Damn you Bodie. Why the bloody hell didn't you listen to me? Why didn't you slow down? This wasn't worth chasing some two bit petty criminals out into the wilds of God knows where. You could have killed the pair of us. But no, you're so bloody pig headed and stubborn that you don't know when to give up and now look what's happened. Brain damage.' I can't get the words out of my head or the sight of him rambling like a madman, nor the guilt I feel at his plight. And though my heart tells me that I just couldn't have done any more, that I had used every fibre in my being to raise the energy for another dive my head refuses to listen. Tears pick at my eyes and I sink to the bottom of the shower and give way to them, wrapping my arms around me.
I wake with a start and realise I've fallen asleep on the sofa. A glance at the clock tells me it's only been for little more that half an hour. Beside me sits a slice of half eaten toast and a cup of tea that I don't remember making. I seem to have changed into fresh clean clothes but I don't remember this either. A strange calmness has come over me and I sit there for a while breathing gently and thinking. What ever has happened since I've come home has clearly done me good and although my tranquillity is laced with a trace of fear I feel better able to deal with what is to come.
The hospital is its usual hive of activity and it's easy to slip into Bodie's room unnoticed. He is alone and appears to be asleep. I pull up a chair, sit down and rest my elbows on the edge of the bed to drag my hands wearily through my hair. When I raise my head to look at him again I realise he has heard me for his eyes open and they meet mine.
"Ray!" A weak smile of relief and delight spreads across his face.
"They told me you'd discharged yourself. Cowley's doing his nut," he continues. "I was getting a bit worried." 'YOU were!'
I can't do anything but sit there, shocked. He seems, for all the world, to be perfectly normal but I still can't dare to believe Bodie's come through this mentally unscathed and that my worst fears have been unfounded. As he struggles to sit himself up he seems to sense this.
"I'm fine, thanks to you. Foot's busted up a bit though so I'll be out of action for a while. But mate, you really are going to have to stop kissing me! You wouldn't stop even when I was trying to fight you off down there!"
"Believe me, that's never going to happen again!" I tell him.
His eyes are vivid and bluer that they have ever appeared to be as they lock with mine and sparkle with a message of gratitude. Only now does relief and sheer joy course through my veins as his eyes eventually break from mine.
"Anyway," he says. "What's the food like in this place? I'm starving."
And that to me confirms his unaltered mental state. There are only two things in life that Bodie concerns himself with and food is one of them.
"No idea, mate. Didn't stick around long enough to find out." He can tell I'm not up to talking about why and I wish, not for the first time, that I was as uncomplicated a person as he is. He touches my arm.
"If you're not going to check yourself back in here then go home and get some sleep. You look terrible. Make sure you ring Cowley too."
I get up slowly. "I could sleep for a week." I tell him truthfully and, heading for the door I hear the roaring voice of Nurse Agnes outside in the corridor.
"Hey mate," Bodie calls out to me, his face dancing with mischief. "Seen any pretty nurses yet?" 'Bodie's second concern in life-girls.'
"Yeah mate, in fact there's one that's just your type."
"Yeah. Goes by the name of Agnes." I take great delight in telling him.
"Agnes? I've never had an Agnes before."
"Well you can now. I picked her out specially for you. Even told her you'll need extra therapy on that bad foot of yours. Know what I mean?" I wink suggestively at him.
"Aw mate! Thanks! I can't wait to meet her."
'No, I can't wait for you to meet her either. Serves you right for what you've put me through.'
"See you later,mate." I merge into the general hubbub of the corridor and as I move away I look back to catch a glimpse of Nurse Agnes about to enter Bodie's room. I head for home, smiling.