Previous episode here.
It was becoming fairly obvious to Jack that Barry had seized the opportunity of his father’s death to introduce him to Jelly. Was this just a whim on Barry’s part, or had he been hatching something for a while? And why him, and not one of the other guys he worked with? He determined to tackle Barry, despite his instinctive wariness.
The morning insults had ceased. On arriving at work he grabbed a cup of tea and sat at the one table in the room, while Barry read the newspaper. Jack had deliberately arrived a little early this morning just so he could speak with Barry, who seemed to be there no matter how early he arrived.
“What made you decide to introduce me to Jelly?”
“You were ready to see him Jack. If I had introduced you before, you would have done your Jack-the-lad act, or something similarly pathetic.”
Jack knew this was true, and couldn’t help but feel he was being manipulated.
“Why not one of the other guys? Why me?”
“You Jack are a good man, and you are strong. Of course your false modesty means you won’t accept these things, and maybe this will all turn out to be a waste of time. I personally don’t care, but at least you have the opportunity to not be a passive victim of life.”
Jack could not reply. He never knew Barry could speak in that kind of way. Barry generally didn’t say much, and when he did it usually had the word “fuck” embedded on it somewhere.
“Oh, by the way, Jelly wants to meet you at the shopping center in York when you next meet. Same time. He’ll be near the information center.”
This was inconvenient. York was about half an hour away, and he would have to jump on a train.
“That’s a pain in the arse Barry, and it must be inconvenient for Jelly.”
“Do it, or don’t do it. Either way, save me your whining.”
Jack arrived home first that evening, Helen would be an hour or so after her visit to the hair stylist. He was quite aware that his natural good looks, boyish charm, and ability to make friends easily meant he could live a very gregarious lifestyle. And if he wanted he could probably choose any woman he desired as well. But it all seemed a bit tedious and pointless to Jack. This was undoubtedly the influence of his father in some way or other.
Just as he was about to get a shower, in the new wet room, he remembered. Helen’s parents were coming round at eight to share their holiday photos. Jack unconsciously clenched his jaw. Was there anything worse in the world than people expecting others to be interested in their holiday photos? And of course this is why Helen was getting her hair done.
She got home at seven, just as Jack had dressed.
“You have remembered that mum and dad are coming round this evening Jack?”
“Well I wouldn’t be wearing my posh clothes if I had forgotten, would I ?”
What could have been an evening of loafing about would instead be an evening of standing to attention. Helen would be putting her good little girl act on, and her parents would look on approvingly. He wondered if they knew that their little princess liked anal sex.
At eight sharp the door bell rang. In came Mary, followed by Donald. Helen hugged and kissed them both as if she had not seen them for ten years, when in reality she saw them at least twice a week. Jack gave Mary a peck on the cheek, and shook Donald’s hand vigorously. They did after all live in a three bedroom semidetached house, and lorded it over Helen and Jack in their tiny two bedroom terrace.
The photos mainly consisted of Donald clowning around in the swimming pool at their hotel in Majorca, and endless pictures of them eating and drinking. Every photo was designed to persuade the viewer that Mary and Donald were the happiest couple on Earth, when in reality Mary was taking antidepressants and Donald was a serial philanderer.
It took over an hour to get through the photos, and it was expected that Helen and Jack would make comments on each one, expressing their surprise at how wonderful it all was.
Jack knew they would then talk for another hour about the new conservatory they were having built at the back of their house. But he had had enough. So without any warning he decided not to feel too well.
“I think I’ve got flu or something coming on, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to catch it.” Jack said in a matter of fact way.
Helen glared at him. She knew he hadn’t got flu. However Mary and Donald quickly agreed that he should go to bed. They certainly didn’t want to catch anything.
He heard them leave at around ten thirty and smiled to himself. Helen quickly secured the house and came upstairs. She didn’t say anything, but turned away from him as she got into bed. Jack couldn’t have cared less.
Barry wasn’t at work the next day, which was unusual. He would normally tell Jack if he wasn’t going to be in. After work Jack hurried home, showered and put on his casual clothes. He cycled down to the train station with less than a minute to spare. On arriving at the shopping center he saw Jelly sat on a bench opposite the information booth with a cup of coffee and a cup of tea for Jack.
“I’m sorry to drag you here Jack, and it isn’t exactly my favorite place, but there are some things you need to see.”
It seems Jelly had been driven by car and someone would pick him up in just over an hour’s time.
“Look at that man with the briefcase Jack. What do you see?”
Jack was puzzled.
“Well I see what you see Jelly, a man with a briefcase.”
“Why is he carrying the briefcase Jack?”
“Well, I imagine he has just left work and it contains stuff he needs.”
“And why has he been to work Jack?”
Jack was puzzled by these obvious questions.
“Well, to earn money I guess.”
“And why does he need money Jack?”
“To buy food, pay his bills – all that kind of thing.”
“And why does he need to buy food and pay his bills Jack?”
“Well he would die without food and without shelter Jelly.”
“Precisely Jack. So carrying the brief case is one of the things he does to avoid death.”
It seemed an odd exercise to Jack, but the conclusion was undeniable. Jelly sipped his coffee for a while, and then suddenly pointed at an attractive women with short skirt, elaborate makeup and long flowing hair.
“Why do you think that woman displays herself like that Jack?”
“Well I imagine she wants attention from men, and is probably competing with other women.”
“And why would she do those things Jack?”
Jack had never considered the motives of women who exhibited themselves like this woman. Although it seemed fairly obvious that she enjoyed it.
“I really don’t know. Maybe she is making a statement about how much she values herself.”
“Very good Jack. And value is a relative thing isn’t it? She is advertising that she only wants alpha males to try and mate with her. Depending on her value system, those will be particularly attractive men like you Jack, or wealthy men. She probably doesn’t realize it herself, but she is looking for a man who can offer her the best chances of survival for herself, and possibly her offspring.”
Jack was uneasy with this. It sounded a bit sexist, and it was all a bit too close to home. He was well aware that he would not have married an unfit, unattractive women. He married Helen because the sex was amazing, and she had very good boobs. It was all about breeding prospects.
Jelly sipped his coffee once again.
“Jack, almost everything you see here is about survival and breeding. It’s all dressed up of course, and it also serves the purpose of distracting people from disturbing thoughts. The thing that is driving all these people is the survival instinct. It drives everything, and of course no one lives for ever, and so people become neurotic. Every instinct within them wants to live, and yet they are aware, no matter how dimly, that they will die. Some people turn to religion as a source of comfort, but many of these people turn to stuff. The force that drives this world is ruthless. It’s only concern is preservation of the species to some extent, and more generally the preservation of life. Why do you think the sex drive is so strong? Life treats us as though we are livestock to be reared, to breed, and then slaughtered. Why do you think it is that we have just enough time to generate offspring and rear them, before our health starts to fail and we eventually die.”
“Well it’s alright pointing these things out Jelly, but there is no alternative.” Jack said with a certain amount of annoyance.
“Oh there is an alternative Jack, and that is the tragedy of it all. Look at these people do they seem happy? I think you have to agree they do not. All the emotions they experience, most of them sad emotions, are created by this drive for life. I’ll explain all that another time. The thing to take away is that human beings can rise above the lot they have been given, but it is a rare thing, and probably always will be.”
Jack noticed the drop in tone as Jelly spoke the last sentence, and it moved him. They both sat silent for another ten minutes or so drinking their coffee and tea. Eventually Jelly stood up and simply mentioned that it was time for him to leave. Jack could not take his eyes off the people milling around this shopping center. It made him feel very sad.
They both walked together for a few minutes and Jelly pointed to a car that was waiting for him.
“Goodbye Jack. Remember we are studying this as we might study anything else. Try not to let it make you sad.”
They shook hands and Jelly walked slowly toward a fairly old small car that was parked a hundred meters down the road. Jack walked at right angles to Jelly and toward the station. He looked over one more time only to see a very large, very new and very expensive Mercedes pull up, which Jelly then climbed into. Jack thought he must be mistaken, but there was no mistaking that slow walk of Jelly’s. He peered harder as he became sure he could see Barry in the driver’s seat. It was Barry he was sure of it.
The car sped away leaving Jack confused, and feeling somewhat vulnerable. Who were these people?
Barry Comes Clean
Jack was desperate to get to work and challenge Barry. It was Barry he had seen in the Mercedes, he was sure of it. He arrived twenty minutes early. And yes, Barry was there, reading the newspaper as usual. Jack strode into the tiny canteen and immediately blurted, “I saw you driving Jelly last night in a large Mercedes Barry”.
Barry continued to read his newspaper.
“What is going on? How the fuck can you afford to ride around in a car like that?”
Barry put the newspaper down, sighed, and said in a soft, calm tone, “Yes, that was me. It was a mistake, a silly careless mistake. You know nothing about me Jack, and I’m sorry that I have had to deceive you, but neither Jelly or I want people hanging around for the wrong reasons. We also do not want to draw attention to ourselves.”
“What do you mean by draw attention to yourself. Who is going to be interested in an old man living in a shit hole, and a tire fitter?”
“Who do you think owns this tire fitting business Jack? Why do you think I’m always here no matter how early you come in? I own this business Jack, and fat guts gets paid to act as a cover and to keep his mouth shut. Come with me.”
Barry beckoned Jack to follow as he left the canteen. They crossed the road and walked to the nearby car park. Hidden away at the back was the Mercedes Jack had seen the previous night. Barry opened it, and suggested Jack might want to get inside. By now Jack was feeling very unsure about this whole thing, but fuck it, he wanted to know what the hell was happening.
“I’m going to take you to my home Jack. As you know I never socialize, and I have never shown anyone where I live because I want an incognito life.”
Jack had nothing to say. What could he say?
Barry sped through the town and out into open countryside. He drove for nearly an hour, and must have covered about forty miles. Eventually he slowed and steered the car into a gated drive. There was no house to be seen, just a long tree-lined driveway. The electric gates opened slowly, seemingly without any action on Barry’s part, and they glided down the beautiful lane for about a minute, until a large mansion-like house came into view. In front of the house was a circular gravel driveway, and as they came to a halt, so the door of the house opened and a young man dressed as a concierge came to open the door for Barry. Jack remained silent.
They entered the house, and Jack delighted in the smell of freshly cut flowers and a faint smell of wood smoke. Barry led Jack into a large sumptuously furnished lounge with many pictures and portraits hanging from the wall, and beckoned the man who looked like a concierge to bring them both tea.
“So, I imagine this is all a bit of a shock Jack? And once again I apologize for having misled you. I’m an ex investment banker. I did very well. I could lie and cheat better than all of them, and I made a lot of money. I could fuck as many women as I wanted – two or three a day if I desired. Two thousand pounds for a bottle of champaign was just loose change for me, and I had access to some of the most powerful people in the country. Maybe you remember that banking scandal that hit the headlines, and how three investment bankers were jailed for defrauding investors of five hundred million pounds. That was me, and the suckers who were sent to jail were just the fall guys. They were paid well enough, and when they get out in a couple of years they will pick up a handsome reward. This was my life until the day I met Jelly. And by-the-way, that shit-hole he lives in is just a cover too. Jelly is a Lord, although I will let him disclose his real identity when he decides to do so. Anyway, you may be under the impression that with so much money, sex, power, cocaine and material possessions, that I was happy. I was actually very near suicide, as are many of the people who work in that line of business. All that is left inside these people is a ravenous wolf, and it can never be satisfied. The appetites become monsters, devouring these people from the inside. And they have so much of themselves invested in the prestige and power associated with their profession that they are hooked. They are junkies just waiting to be destroyed by their addiction.
I met Jelly one night at a banker’s ball. He was a very large investor in a number of funds, and was treated with due respect. He came up to me and without any preamble, simply told me that I would be dead within two years if I continued as I was. I had never met him before, although I was certainly aware of who he was. He went on to say that he could show me how to become master of myself, instead of a slave to the beast called life. I had no idea what he was talking about. He pushed his card into my hand and told me to contact him. I did nothing of the sort, until one day I went for a shit and there was no paper in the toilet. So I started to wipe my arse with twenty pound notes. It was such a metaphor for my life. I had sacrificed everything just so I could wipe my arse with money, and that was how much value it had taken on. All of a sudden it all seemed pointless. I went home and hit the bottle. After two days, and near to suicide, I happened to see Jelly’s card on the floor. In a half drunken state I phoned him. As it happened we both lived in Holland Park, in the west end of London. He came around within fifteen minutes, and told me I was just a slave to the beast called life. He could show me a different way to live, and suggested that I travel north to his estate near York on the following day. I did what he said, and the rest is history.”
Jack had nothing to say.
“I hope this doesn’t come between us Jack. Oh and I should tell you that my real name is Cedric – Cedric Parker. I was schooled at Eton and went to Oxford and studied classics. I only tell you this so you know everything. I don’t want anything to be hidden.”
“You make me feel very inadequate Barry, or should I say Cedric?”
“Please call me Cedric.”
“So your tough man act at work is just an act, and you mix with jokers like us, for what? Why not just luxuriate in your palace Cedric? Why pretend you are a tire fitter?”
“Jack, you may not see it, but the only honest work is manual work. There is no cheating or pretending with something like the work we do. All those fuckers pushing paper around in offices don’t know what honest work is. I do it because it keeps me honest, and I value the company of you and the other two more than I can say.”
Jack was actually moved by Cedric’s confession. It rang true for him. He had been no idiot at school, and had been pushed to study for university. But Jack had friends who had been to university. They changed, becoming self-serious, devious little shits. And the jobs they did tore the heart out of them. Long hours, office politics, sucking up to the boss. A perfect picture of hell as far as Jack was concerned. And so he elected to do simple manual work. It was honest. Was this his father’s influence again?
“It makes no difference to me who you are Cedric. I don’t care. It’s not going to change my life, so why should I care?”
Jack was sure he could see Cedric’s eyes watering up.
“There are hundreds of us in our network Jack. We call ourselves Seekers of Freedom. It may sound a little pompous, but it describes who we are and what we do very well. There are two things I would like you to do with me. In a couple of weeks there is a banker’s ball at the Dorchester in London. I would like you to come with me. I want to show you the heart of the beast. And then in about a month’s time the Seekers of Freedom will be gathering in Scotland for a few days. Again I would like you to come, or rather, both Jelly and I would like you to come.”
“Barry, sorry Cedric, I cannot imagine why you want me to become part of your elite club. It’s all a bit patronizing to be honest.”
“Oh, believe me there is nothing patronizing about this Jack. You are a rare individual, and we are the ones who are privileged to know you. In any case, there is no pressure, just let me know if you would like to come.”
Cedric gave Jack a tour of the house, if it could be called such, and they strolled around the gardens. They didn’t say very much. Jack could not help but enjoy the peace and quiet, the understated elegance, and the space. His life with Helen in their little terraced house seemed a million miles away, but he also felt a fondness for its simplicity.
They went back to work and the day proceeded as normal. When Jack got back home he gave Helen a big hug. She thought it was an apology for crashing out of her parent’s visit. In any case she was moved by it.