The Crash: Chapter Twelve
This week in 'The Crash', Jason Jackson-Jones may not be showing signs of weakness, but he's certainly feeling them. The allegations of a Sheffield journalist make him realise that a crash may be imminent... in every sense of the word!
In the car driving home, Jason kept remembering the conversation with Peter. Funny that, of all the things that had happened over the course of the day, including the triumphant reversal of Jepsons' intention to cancel their contract, and the apparent abdication of his receptionist, it was the brief and entirely predictable conversation with his old adversary that had snagged on the hook of his thoughts and refused to come unstuck. As he sat at the traffic lights watching the queue of people waiting for the Hillsborough tram, he found Peter's words echoing in his mind.
"If you know something, you'd do better to come clean than cover it up."
Well, Peter would say that. He'd like nothing better than to be the deliverer of an exclusive interview with local business star turned failure, Jason Jackson-Jones. And no doubt about it, if Peter got what he wanted, Jason would be a failure. Because what Peter wanted was to show the world that Jason's faulty parts were behind the crash that had killed two people, injured several more, and delayed hundreds of people's evening meals and activities. Not that Jason thought that any of it was his responsibility. But what kept worrying at his mind was that he couldn't absolutely rule it out. And what if the tests did show that the accident was a result of faulty car parts? And what if they did turn out to be JJ's? Jason's heart beat faster as the stationary traffic in front of his eyes was replaced by a mental panorama of images of disaster.
He saw himself being stripped of his APMA position. He saw himself standing up in court trying to defend himself against a charge of criminal negligence. He saw his former and present Engineering Managers standing up to give evidence of his unsatisfactory procedures. He saw Terri staring at him, her eyes wide with horror as she tried to take in the news that her husband was responsible for a string of deaths and injuries, and many more potential disasters. He tried to calculate the scale of recalls that would be necessary for him to be absolutely certain that there was no risk of danger from the lower-quality steel they'd been using, but his mind boggled at the task. He resorted to counting with his fingers on the steering wheel, each tap of the wheel representing a product line.
As he did so, a honk of a horn behind him brought him back to reality. While he'd sat there, lost in imagined disasters, the real world had moved on around him, the lights had changed, and instead of the back of the Ford Focus in front of him, he was now staring at blank tarmac. He hastily shifted into gear and moved forwards, resolving to put his worries behind him until he reached home.
His radio was, as usual, tuned to Hallam FM for the local traffic and travel news, but in order to aid his resolution not to think about cars (tricky, when you were driving one), he retuned it to Classic fm. They were playing some floaty, ripply piano music that washed over him like waves, refusing to allow serious thought to take hold, and he made a mental note to listen to the station more often. That was, until the music stopped and the adverts set in, urging him to stock up on Classic FM branded goodies for Christmas. Ugh! He couldn't imagine Terri or Jess being delighted at receiving a Composers' Notes Diary, a six CD boxed set of Relaxing Greats or tickets to the once-in-a-lifetime gala performance of some unheard-of composer's premier.
He switched the radio off and drove in silence the rest of the way home, which allowed Peter's voice to continue echoing in his head.
"Come clean," it insisted stubbornly, even after Jason had convinced himself that there was nothing to tell. Why should there be? If the steel wasn't strong enough for the job, that was the fault of the steel manufacturer. Or if the responsibility rested not with the provider of the initial materials, but with the end user, then the car manufacturer should no more have fitted JJ parts than Jason should have used the lower quality steel. In which case, the ultimate responsibility was theirs, not his. No, whichever way he looked at it, the blame sat squarely elsewhere. So why did he feel so rotten?
For the first time in years, he cruised up the drive of his beautiful dream home without feeling any pleasure in surveying his own little kingdom. He'd always enjoyed knowing that he'd earned it, found it and fixed it up, and installed his girls in the perfect luxury he'd always dreamed of providing. He'd loved how the garage door sensors swiftly opened the door to welcome him as he coasted to a halt in front of the house, and how the light above the door flicked on as he neared the steps, so he never had to rummage in the dark for a key. He'd loved everything about his success, but today his self-congratulations had a hollow ring, because Peter had introduced a doubt. For the first time ever, Jason began to wonder whether he really deserved his success.
Shaking off the unpleasant thought, he got out of the car, clicked the key fob, listened to the satisfying double-beep of the central locking, and headed into the house. Terri and Jess were already at the table, but Terri jumped up to serve him a plate of curry and rice.
"Thanks," he said absently, washing his hands and sitting down at table. He shoveled in food mechanically, half-listening to the girls' conversation, until he was brought up short by the one word always guaranteed to attract his attention: 'CAR.'
"What's that?" he asked, looking up at Jess and realising, as he rejoined the real world, that the hot curry had left his mouth with a burning sensation that a huge gulp of water failed to quench.
"I said, Bethany's parents have bought her a car for her birthday. So she's going to drive tonight now. Which means I can have a drink. Don’t worry, I’ll only have one. I know it’s college tomorrow."
"That'll be nice," Terri smiled.
"What sort?" Jason asked, the curry he'd bolted settling like a lump of lead in his stomach.
“What sort of what? Drink? A cocktail, probably. Or just a glass of wine. Nothing too heavy.”
“No, what sort of car.”
He knew what the answer was going to be, even before he'd asked the question. It was the way his week was going. Everything that could possibly happen to challenge or upset him, was happening. Which meant that his daughter would be going out later that evening in a car built with JJ Auto parts. Parts that Jason himself had guaranteed were sound. Parts that he was beginning to suspect might be dangerous, but that he would find himself slithering towards bankruptcy if he publicly declared were suspect.
"What's the problem?" Jess asked, seeing his reaction to her answer.
"I just think maybe you should wait before letting Bethany drive you anywhere. Let her get used to the car a bit first. That sort of thing."
"Don't be daft, Dad," Jess scoffed, ripping a chunk of Naan, stuffing it into her mouth and continuing through her chewing, "you let me go out with her when she was test driving cars. She's a careful driver."
Jason flinched. How could he tell her it wasn't the driving he was worried about?
"I know she is, but you never know." He knew he was backtracking, knew he was onto losing ground, but couldn't think how to explain the truth.
It only got harder when he took a mouthful of curry and chewed it slowly and carefully, trying to find words in his mind, and then Terri jumped into the debate.
Terri had an endless appetite for hot food, and her mouth clearly wasn't stinging with the heat of the meal. She was smiling broadly as she swallowed the last mouthful of chicken jalfrezi and chipped in, "Don't be such a worrywart, Jase."
In spite of himself, Jason found himself smiling at the outdated description and at her abbreviation of his name. He'd willingly bet any amount you cared to name that nobody at the office could imagine him answering to the name of 'Jase.'
"I can't help it," he said, mellowing in spite of himself and wondering if maybe the difficult week had got him over-reacting. "It's only because I care so much about my girl," he excused himself to his wife. "I want you and your friends to be safe," he added in Jess's direction.
She rolled her eyes.
"I know, Dad, but we will be. We're all grown up."
"Debatable, sometimes," Jason pointed out, smiling in spite of himself. "You don't always act that way."
"Dad! We are."
"I know. Just... be careful."
He knew the instruction wouldn't help. No amount of care would make a difference if a crucial part - the engine mounting, say, or a brake shoe - chose that moment to shear off. Even though he was no scientist, he'd spent long enough in the industry to be able to picture vividly, at both the macro and micro scale, the way a bracket looked when it broke due to being placed under more stress than the strength of the steel was designed to resist. His mind helpfully served up images of the sharply broken edge you'd see with the naked eye, and the more complex pattern formed by the molecules you'd see when you examined the stress fracture under an electron microscope. But his mind didn't stop there. He didn't need to be a scientist for the next image, just your average watcher of 'Crash', say, or 'Police Chase' or any other of a dozen or more shows and films that showed you what happened when cars were mistreated - or misconstructed.
"I will," Jess agreed, with a smile. Jason somehow found himself surprised that she hadn't managed to read his mind. Surely the images he'd conjured up were so powerful that they were broadcasting in full colour? But Jess just leaned over to kiss her mother on the cheek, gave Jason a cheery wave, and set off upstairs.
"Be nice. She needs to get used to being independent," Terri pointed out.
For a moment, Jason considered letting out his real worries, but only for a moment. Before he could find the words, Jess was gone, and then all he could do was wait for her return and try to convince himself that the odds of anything bad happening to Bethany's new car were less than the odds of him winning the lottery - and he'd never won more than a fiver in all the years he'd been playing. So that was very safe indeed.