Jimmy quietly put on his clothes in the half darkness. Wallet, keys, angina spray, all ready to go. He opened his door slowly, peeking out, giving the corridor a quick left right. All clear. Operation Daytrip was well and truly on. He could hear coughing in a room as he passed. Margaret was up, spluttering into the night, occasional talking to herself. Jimmy gave it no care, or the next door, Robert’s room, with his TV on all night because he couldn’t sleep a wink. He stays in bed most days, a nocturnal ancient vampire, minus the teeth. Snoring greeted him as he slipped carefully down the hall, passing doors and windows, all the same design with the same drab colours and curtains. Most people here called this place Stowell House Care Home but to him it was Stalag 17. Jimmy knocked lightly on a door, identical to the rest, apart from the numbers of course. It opened slightly. “Let me in then!” Jimmy said impatiently, pushing through. A smiling man stepped back, his gray hair parted immaculately, the blue suit and tie not out of the ordinary for Stan, but not at twenty past three in the morning. “You got his fob?” Jimmy asked the small, stocky man who showed it in-between his fingers, looking pleased with himself. “And I managed to get some clothes on him as well.” Jimmy nodded, he was nervous and time was of the essence. Both men moved back into the corridor and three doors later Stan pressed the small disc to a black box and they heard the lock click open and stepped in the room as fast as they could. “Bugger me!” They both said in unison. The smell was horrific. Stale and fresh farts clouded the air. “Oh frig me, my eyes!” Stan exclaimed, blinking rapidly. Jimmy tried to hold his breath, carefully stepping forward to the figure in the bed breathing softly. “Has a rat crawled up his arse and died?” Stan grunted, rubbed his old baby blues. “Let’s get him out of here before we go blind,” Jimmy said, giving the sleeping man a gentle shake of the shoulder. “Frank?” Nothing…”Frank!” Still just a light, blissful breath. Jimmy bent to his ear. “FRANK!!” The prone man jumped up startled, his coat already on underneath the thin cover. “Frank it’s us. Remember?” Frank’s vacant gaze said it all. Stan grabbed the wheelchair and put it next to the bed. “Come on me old son,” he said with a grin. “Hop on.” Frank looked nonplussed, his thin whispy hair wild. “We’re going on a trip Frank.” Jimmy told him, coming round the bed. Both men getting either side of the bewildered O.A.P. They moved him with gentle ease, getting him as comfortable as possible. “Bag of bones,” Stan whispered as Jimmy nodded in agreement. Frank’s coat zipped up to his throat and a thick blanket over his legs to cover the blue pajamas he wore. Jimmy pushed the chair easily, even though Frank was a couple of inches taller than him. “Don’t forget his spare clothes,” Stan said, picking up an ancient flat cap then placing it carefully on Frank’s head. “Shit.” He said, more to himself than anybody. Jimmy checked his watch. 3.30. Smack on time. He heard the small slip slop of footsteps build up then slowly fade as he opened the door. Mad Bernadette was on her way, just like clockwork. She’d go straight to the kitchen and help herself to tomorrow’s breakfast. She was a heavy set woman with jet black dyed hair. From the back she could pass for fifty but face on she had a mass of wrinkles like all of the residents. Her uniform was snug, her face had deep lines around the eyes and mouth that showed her true age, or maybe it was the permanent scowl she wore. Jimmy couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen her smile. “Let’s go!” he said, the three of them heading for the sliding glass door. You could get out but couldn’t get in, not without your fob anyway. Fresh night air hit them, as they moved as fast as two men in their late seventies could muster and slid around the corner to the car park. In the east, the sky tinged with lighter colours. A car moved out of a parking bay in front of them, the engine revving high. Stan opened the back door and got in, moving gracefully into the middle. “Fancy meeting you here?” he said, looking at the elderly lady in the driver’s seat. She, like Stan, had dressed smartly. Her hair carefully done during the night. Her dress light with a matching cardigan. The thick rimmed glasses making her eyes bigger. Jimmy managed to get Frank out of the chair into the car in a swift move. Stan made him comfortable, buckling the belt at the same time. Jimmy had opened the boot and managed to somehow get the wheelchair in with a few grunts, his chest tight. He got in the front breathing heavily. “Your weight lifting days are over mate,” Stan commented as Jimmy had a blast of angina spray, his tongue touching the roof of his mouth, the metallic taste not very pleasant, his heart thumping wildly. “You ok Jimmy?” Stan asked. “You sure you want to do this?” He nodded, grimaced at the pain in his chest, waiting for the angina to subside, then said, “Yes.”
“Hello Frank,” the lady said kindly. “Shit.” came the cheerful reply, Frank closing his eyes. “I think he means Hello Lizzie,” Stan said, buckling in himself. With the wheelchair in the boot and Jimmy panting in front Lizzie moved away, her small frame looking tiny in the big range rover. At the end of the drive she turned left, leaving the Stalag behind them. “Hi ho silver! We’re off!” Stan said happily, the adventure had begun. The big car hopped for awhile as Lizzie played with the gears. “Just out of interest,” Jimmy asked, breathing deeply. “When was the last time you drove Lizzie?” She pinched her face up, thinking, the car picking up speed. “Mmmm I can’t remember…my husband was alive…” Stan thought quietly for a second. “Didn’t you say he died in 1999?” She nodded. “Yes that’s right.” The engine roared as she put her foot down a touch, racing on the duel carriage way. “How did he pass Lizzie?” Jimmy enquired, looking concerned. “He had a heart attack love,” she replied, concentrating, the car going faster and starting to veer slightly across the deserted road. “Probably while you were driving,” Stan muttered, fear building up in his stomach as they moved toward their destination.
They parked the stolen car away from the sea front. Bernadette would be having a fit by now. Jimmy imagined her, bleary eyed looking for car keys which she left in the same place every shift. On the coat hook underneath the puffa jacket that was old as the hills. They found a greasy cafe quickly and sat looking out of the steamed up window as the waitress brought them tea and toast. Frank snored loudly, once, twice then into a deep sleep, his head resting against Jimmy’s jacket that he’d turned into a make shift pillow. Lizzie yawned loudly and rubbed her shoulder. The drive had been tiring for her and terrifying for the two men as she weaved across the lanes. A few people sat around, eating cooked breakfasts and such. “So now what?” she asked, slurping, her lipstick printing on the pale cup. Stan and Lizzie both looked at Jimmy. He was in charge. This was, after all, his plan. “We sit and relax for a bit,” he said. “The pub opens at eleven.” So they sat, chatting about what was happening back at Stowell House. “They won’t know we’ve gone till mid morning, then the shit will hit the fan,” Stan said easily, not a care in the world. Jimmy shrugged, he was 79, Stan the same and Lizzie claimed to be 75 but he doubted it as she’d had three 75th birthdays already. Frank was the oldest at 84, so technically, he was the ringleader. “Ey Lizzie,” Stan began, “You are looking lovely by the way,” his eyes twinkling. “Give over, silly sod!” she replied. “Save your crap for the carers, they love it.” Jimmy nodded in agreement. ” It’s true mate. That Chantelle loves you.” Stan smiled. He was a catch back in the day, when he was twenty five, muscles from the building site and a face that could charm a nun. “She gives me extra biscuits when I have a cuppa.” Lizzie crunched on the cold toast. “Chantelle? Is she the one with the eyebrows?” Both men looked a bit lost. “Y’know?” she said. ” Those eyebrows that lots of girls have these days.” Stan shook his head. “I just thought she looked surprised…” Jimmy finished the remains of his tea. “She reminds me of Gary Glitter.” Frank made a noise and a grim smell rose up. A young couple on the next table looked over, faces screwed up. Jimmy paled. “I knew this would happen,” he said, looking at Stan for support. “I told you I can’t do it.” Jimmy’s sad eyes landed on Lizzie. “Oh no,” she said firmly. “I’m just the getaway driver.” Jimmy stood up like a condemned man, taking the wheelchair to the toilet, leaving a waft as they went. The two men came back ten minutes later, Jimmy’s face was grim, the colour of moldy apples. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, furtively. “I left his old clothes in the bog.” Lizzie got up and said, “The cleaner will love you.” Jimmy moved the wheelchair to the door. “Never mind the cleaner. We blocked the bog.” He turned to the owner. “Thank you! Bye!” And he was up and away out the door. The woman behind the counter looked up, smiled a cheery smile. “Thank you! Come again!” Stan flashed a nervous grin, knowing full well when that woman goes in that toilet she won’t be smiling.
They past the next couple of hours slowly walking up and down the prominade. Lizzie’s walking stick clicking on the path. She had a new hip last year but it still was a bit stiff. The sun was amazing, people were quickly filling up the long beach. Both Jimmy and Stan had taken off their jackets, and Frank appeared dead to the world. The bought hats and sunglasses in a large sell everything kind of place. All the cheap trilby’s were the same. Black with Time to party! on the front. Jimmy removed Frank’s flat cap and slipped the other on and asked Frank if he liked it. “Shit,” came the reply. The glasses were all very Elton John, star shaped bright red. The two men took turns in pushing as the weather seemed to get hotter. “If I’m right, the pub is just around the corner,” Jimmy informed them. All of them were flagging. He was right, in a fashion anyway. All three stared up in front of the glistening building. “A cocktail bar!” Stan said. “This can’t be right.” His face had already turned a pinky colour. “This is it!” Jimmy told him. “The Eagle,” he said pointing at the fancy sign. THE LEGAL EAGLE. Underneath in neon it said ‘ Cocktails and Artisan foods’. Lizzie looked nonplussed. “What’s Artisan?” Stan thought for a second. “I think it’s vegetarian…” Jimmy breathed heavily and started to push the wheelchair up the disabled entrance. “Let’s get in,” he said. “I’m as hot as a Mexicans underpants.”
The OAPs walked in. Glad to be in a cooler, shady place. The bar was deserted, apart from a smartly dressed couple sat looking very classy. Jimmy looked around, squinting, searching above the windows. His eyes lit up. “We found it Frank!” He pushed the man into the booth and Lizzie and Stan glanced upward. Directly above them, a fairly large dark wooden eagle, sat on a branch sticking out of the wall. As they sat down a very smart young man came up to the table. He smiled nervously. “Ah…hello how may I help you? ” Jimmy sighed, he was dog tired. “Three pints of bitter and half a’lager please mate.” The young man shuffled his shiny shoes on the thick carpet. “Ah…I’m sorry we only sell cocktails….” All three of them gazed at the waiter, bewildered. Frank moved slightly and said, “Shit.”
“Ah,” said the young fella. “There is a pub just up -” Jimmy gave his head a shake. “No. No. It has to be right here.” Lizzie started to peruse the cocktail menu. “Never had one of these…” Stan turned to the barman. “You got any bottles of pale ale instead then?” The young man shook his head, the ponytail dancing. “Ah….no sorry. I-” Lizzie cut in. “Pornstar Martini? What’s in that?” She asked as she didn’t have her reading glasses. “Ah…it’s vodka with-” Lizzie put the menu down. “I’ll have one!” Jimmy agreed. “Four of those please pal,” he told the lad, who asked, “Would you like the food menu?” Stan gave him a look. “No we don’t want any of that artisan muck thanks. We’re going to chippy after this.” The young waiter stared blankly. ” Ah….ok.” he said walking away.
Four years earlier…
Jimmy sat at the table, looking out to the green grass outside. The bruise on his head had nearly gone. Another fall at home. The quack said it was low blood pressure. All Jimmy remembers is somebody moved a step on the stairs. His daughters persuaded him to have a look at this place, so here he was, supping a cuppa waiting for the manager to turn up. “This place is lovely isn’t it dad?” Jackie said, trying to sound cheerful. Jimmy grunted, his face set. “I’ll go and see where she is,” his daughter said, jumping up and leaving him alone in the vaguely strange smelling dining room. A big man walked in, whistling lightly. His short sleeve shirt fitting snugly, old faded tattoos on his hefty arms. “You alright pal,” he said with a grin. “You joining us in Stalag 17?” Jimmy laughed. “Well I’m just waiting to see the commandant…” The big man laughed back, holding out his hand. “Frank.” Jimmy shook it firmly…..
Three pornstar Martini’s in and Lizzie laughed loudly at a bad joke from Stan, who chuckled heartily. He could get into this cocktail lark. Frank had tried a sip then downed it in one. A few more people had come in, most of them staring at the unruly foursome. The manager, a man in his twenties with an amazing sharp, flawlessly skinned face sauntered over. His smile not quite touching the eyes. “Hi excuse me,” he began. “Could you guys just drop the sound level a touch.” Frank, not moving, his eyes closed said simply, “Shit.” Jimmy looked at the manager and told him with a smile. “He doesn’t mean that pal, it’s -” the manager stepped back. “Look, you guys are disturbing our mixologist Anton.” Stan looked over and a very tall man with a shaved head and a long beard shaking up a drink and looking distressed. “He put vermouth in the screwdriver. He’s flustered due to your noise.” Jimmy frowned. “What the bloody hell is a mixologist?” Stan pointed at the bar. “The daft lad with the beard.” Jimmy understood. “Oh the barman!” The manager looked rattled. “No he’s not just a barman,” he said. “He’s got an accreditation.” Stan snorted loudly, “Bloody hell what next! Do your cleaners have a degree in pushing a brush? “
“Sorry Frank,” Jimmy said quietly after they’d been ejected from the bar. He pushed the prone man slowly along to the fish shop. “Best we could do.” Stan walked behind, Lizzie holding on to him, the cocktails had taken effect. Frank’s breathing had changed slightly, more deeper and ragged. They stopped near a shop and Stan disappeared for a minute, only to remearge with a four pack of John Smiths bitter. Jimmy sat on a wall near the harbour, next to the wheelchair. They were all exhausted. Stan and Lizzie sat opposite on the old bench as gulls cried and squawed low in the warm air as they ate fish and chips. Jimmy carefully feeding his friend. “That ok mate?” Frank chewed slowly, part of a chip stuck to his chin…
Three months earlier...
They sat there. The three stooges as they were known. Silence, then Frank said, “It’s spread…the docs are stopping the treatment.” Jimmy and Stan looked at him. “They say it could be weeks…” Jimmy spoke first. “Shit Frank…” Stan nodded, what can be said? For the last four years the three of them has been the very best of friends, and that humour had spread through the people there, except for Mad Bernadette of course. Tears rolled down Stan’s craggy yet handsome face. “Ah come on lads..” Frank said. “We’re all near the end, I’ve just got a bit of advance warning.” His frame was already thinning considerably and what was left of his hair clung to his head. Stan pulled out a faded hankie, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose for good measure. Frank looked at them both closely. “I want you to do something for me… If you can…”
“It’s going to be my fiftieth wedding anniversary in a few weeks,” he began. “We got married in the morning then we went to Scarborough for the night…our honeymoon.” He smiled at the memory. “We bought ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats…went to a pub called The Eagle, what a fleapit!” Jimmy forced a smile, he vaguely remembers the place. “We sat under this bloody awful looking wooden eagle…Ann said keep our hats on just in case,” he laughed. “My lovely Annie…” Stan looked over at a black and white photo in a faded gold frame. The young couple smiling, posing easily for their wedding day. “Then we had fish and chips and sat at the harbour…it was the happiest day of my life…” Jimmy and Stan sat quietly, waiting to hear what their friend wanted. “So we’d go back every five years, for the day,” Frank said, his voice dry. His throat trying to work. “Fourty two years is a lot of love lads.” Jimmy knew exactly what Frank wanted then, to go back, one last time. “Can you two take me?” Stan spoke first, he too had the same idea. “We will Frank,” he said. “Promise.” Jimmy grabbed Frank’s boney hand. “No matter what,” he said, looking at his friend of four great years. “We’ll get you there pal.”
Stan put the can next to Frank’s lips and tipped it with care. The dying man’s Adam’s apple working hard. Frank coughed, spluttering all over the two men who where either side of him, close to their friend. Lizzie was sat, nodding off on the bench. The cooler sea breeze taking the edge off the heat. Jimmy looked up and saw blue lights as the police arrived. They got out slowly and gazed their way. Jimmy took his can and raised it. Stan looked with understanding, raised his. The officers starting to walk slowly over, six or seven of them as the three friends huddled together. Jimmy and Stan tapped the cans together and raised a toast. “To best friends.” Frank lifted his head slightly and seemed to glance his vacant eyes on Jimmy. For a second he was back, his smiling brown eyes full of life, full of good humour and fun. Then they faded, the same blank, lost look returned. Jimmy raised the can once more and said simply, “..Frank..”