Last Chance Saloon

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

27th November 2015
Black. Pitch black. Road and kerb couldn’t be distinguished. Not in this darkness.
The car’s engine throbbed, its constant humming was the only noise on the deserted streets.
Fumes pumped out of the exhaust, rear red lights reflected in blurred pools of water.
Wind whipped across the road, messing with the shapes he could see in front of him.
It messed with his mind.
Then a sudden crashing, clanking, jarring, followed by banging, and scraping.
The car door had swung open.
Ripped off its hinge by a gust of wind, now bashing repeatedly as it swung against the pavement.
Jude tugged up the collar of his overcoat and went to see if he could help.
He could just about make out a flickering light on top of the car – and the faded lettering - LC Cabs.
Crouching down by the open passenger door he looked inside.
He couldn’t see anything.
Just the glow of a burning cigarette in the ash tray.
“Take a ride, sir?” said the deep voice.
Jude jumped back.
After composing himself for a second, he replied.
“Depends where you’re going.”
“To the place of your dreams sir. Wherever your heart desires.”
Jude was still a long way from his hotel.
Disorientated - a combination of drink and drugs - he wasn’t even sure in what direction he should be going.
“What the hell,” he said. “Anywhere’s got to be better than here.”
With that he climbed in the back, and hauled the door shut.
It was completely black inside the cab, except for the glow of the cigarette brightening every time the driver took a drag.
Even the dials were black.
Jude thought it strange, but before he could quiz the driver he was immediately distracted.
Suddenly his mobile phone was vibrating.
He reached into his pocket.
When he pulled it out, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
664 missed messages.
How could that be? He’d only been gone for the evening.
It hadn't alerted him all that time he'd been outside. Only now he'd stepped inside the cab had his phone got reception.
Two more messages ‘pinged’ into his inbox, before he’d even had chance to click ‘open.’
They were all from one number. His wife's.
He clicked on the message.
Just two words.
“Call me”. Repeated, each, and every time, as he scrawled his finger down the screen.
“Excuse me,” he said to the driver. “Do you mind if I make a call?”
“Go ahead, dude”.
“Jude, the name’s Jude.”
The driver just laughed. Jude saw the flash of his teeth, something metal. Gold maybe.
“I’m Lou,” replied the driver. “But people just call be ‘Big L’.”
And with that the cab lurched away from the pavement, all screeching tyres.
Jude was thrown back in his seat.
He pressed for the light above his head. Flicked it on and off. It didn’t work.
“No lights in here my friend,” said Lou.
Jude sighed. Sat back, and closed his eyes.
As they got further into the city, he started to be aware of a flickering light.
Flashes of streetlights hit the windows as they sped past.
Jude sat back up, fumbled for his phone, found it on the leather seat next to him, picked it up and had just about enough light to see what he was doing.
He pressed recall, put his phone to his ear. It rang.
Then rang again.
Finally it clicked as it was picked up.
“Hi, what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong. I’ll tell you what’s wrong,” she answered.
“The press, that’s what’s wrong.
“They’ve rung the phone off the hook.
“They’re camped outside the house.
“They’ve got cameras trained on the door, the windows.
“The kids are scared Jude. I’m scared.
“What are they doing here. What have you done?”
Jude didn’t know what to say.
He could reply.
He could make something up.
He could lie.
He’d done it a thousand times.
It came easy by now.
Even when he was half cut.
Almost automatic.
He cleared his throat.
Ready for the words to spill out, like they always did, effortlessly spinning words into sentences, always fiction, no room for facts.
But just as he was just about to speak, the line went dead.
The screen went blank.
“Lou? What’s happening man? My phone just died.”
“Chill out dude, Jude, whatever your name is. We’re in a blackspot.”
That’s when Jude noticed it.
On one side of the cab, the nearside, flashing lights, houses, offices.
On the other, total darkness. Nothing.
He couldn’t work it out.
Then on the left he noticed it, there was something unnervingly, uncomfortably familiar about what he was looking at.
He recognised the bars.
Just looked like the ones where he’d blurred his Friday afternoons after work into Friday nights on the town – always telling his wife he’d needed to work late before the weekend.
He recognised the shuttered-up shops.
The jewellers, the florists, the expensive clothes stores, where he should have been showing his wife how much he loved her, but where he’d treated his lovers instead.
He recognised the hotels. So many hotels. All neon signs. Welcoming lights. Chandeliers shining bright, dazzling, glittering inside. Diners in the windows. Bars buzzing. So many great nights. So many ‘work trips’ when she thought he was staying away on business, with colleagues.
Then he looked out of the cab window to his right, still just total darkness. Emptiness. Nothing.
That’s when Lou reached out and turned the dial by his cigarette holder.
The woman’s voice on the radio was clear.
Jude thought he recognised it.
She was reading the news.
But mockingly at the same time, laughing, almost sneering.
As the reception crackled, he suddenly realised exactly what she was saying.
“Pillows. Prime Minister. Pullman. Sleeper. “
That’s when the woman stopped speaking and burst into laughter. Cackling, belly-bursting laughter.
“You didn’t,” she interrupted herself, “you didn’t, you surely didn’t think it was you did you?” she laughed. “Didn’t think I was in love with you did you?” She laughed again.
Jude was in a panic.
“Switch the radio station please can you Mr Driver, Lou, whatever your name is. Quickly, please, it's important. It could be a matter of life and death.”
Lou lazily leant his big left hand across, as if taunting his back seat passenger and slowly, methodically, deliberately turned the dial with his long fingers.
“Terrorist attack. Train. Prime Minister. Dead. Remote moorland location. Burnt out carriage,” the words were jumbled in Jude's head. But he still heard them. Loud and clear. Each and every one.
Then a different presenter's voice. Male this time. More measured.
“Thoughts will soon turn to how terrorists could have known the Prime Minister’s travel plans. Only his closest aides would have been privy to that type of classified information.”
Lou slammed on the brakes.
The cab came to a juddering halt.
Jude lurched forward in his seat, then slammed back.
“There’s a diversion ahead sir. Which way would you like to go? We can do a u-turn and head back to where you came from. Or we can turn right sir, and head out over the bridge to the other side of the bay.”
Jude turned round, and looked out of the back window. The long road home. Back to his family.
But where there’d been lights all alongside the pavement side, in the bars, in the shops, in the hotels, now he couldn’t make out anything. He couldn't even see the lines in the road. Couldn't even see how he'd got here.
There was no going back.
“Across the bridge,” he said.
Those were his last words.
Soon after that, total silence, total darkness.
Flashing blue light was the only colour to eventually pierce the blackest of nights.
Followed by the bright white of the officer’s torch as it lit up the number plate – LC666RIP.
The policeman noticed the cigarette still burning on the carpet, then flicker into flame from the spilled fuel, he ran back as fast he could.
Behind him, within seconds there was an almighty explosion.
The car burst into flames, setting the tollbooth where it had crashed on fire, setting light to the very structure of the bay crossing itself, the burning bridge visible for miles around.
This had been no ordinary saloon ride.
Jude had long since had his last chance.
There was only ever one body found in the burnt-out wreckage.
He’d gone on alone, followed his own route far too long for any driver, any saviour, to help him.
Even the devil couldn’t save him now.
Jude had been dead for years.
Everyone knew it. Even his wife.
Only earlier that night she’d finally had the evidence rammed down the phone, pushed through her letterbox, thrust at her door, lit up in brilliant floodlights inside her own bedroom, violating, invading, destroying everything she'd ever treasured.
So stark, so unrelenting, that even she had been finally been forced to admit, what she’d long since suspected, what she’d always really known all along, but never wanted to face up to.
Jude was dead to her. To everyone.
Only he'd been the last fool to find out.