The Wet Hole
(c)Terry Moore 1999
The Wet Hole
'The Wet Hole' was the only remaining occupied building on Jacob's Island. Roger Loxley, the
landlord, was fat, fifty and pissed most of the day. He'd fallen in love with the place the day he'd walked into the estate agent and had seen a picture of it pinned to the wall. Jacob's Island had sounded romantic and the ideal place to run a public house. It was so cheap that all he had to do was find a buyer for his home at that time,
'Our Ladies Church of the Shining Cross.' Which he'd also bought at a knock-down price from Father Judas. The poor priest, he remembered, was beside himself with sorrow at having to sell up. But it was only a small church on a street corner. A large conglomerate from America called 'Religions R Us' had bought a ten-acre site on the outskirts of the town next to ASDA. They'd quickly got planning permission for a multi-faith church. It had a massive free car park and hole-in-the-wall machines for all the major banks. There was even a small shop within the complex that sold packs of five remembrance candles very cheaply and confessional cushions for those long hours spent in the box. It also had a fine collection of hymn books and crucifixes made-in-China to British standards.
Roger had felt so sorry for Father Judas that he'd let him stay on at the Shining Cross until his new posting came in. The day the letter came from the Vatican it was a shock to them both.
Father Judas began to read the letter out loud, but his voice faltered and he went silent. He closed his eyes whilst crushing the letter into a crumpled mess.
"They've made me redundant," he sobbed, throwing the letter into the empty font. Roger asked him what he was going to do. He dabbed at his face with the sleeve of his cassock.
"Oh I'll be all right," he said. "I'll go and see if the Methodists have any vacancies."
It was raining the day the good Father left and Roger had spent the morning placing saucepans everywhere to catch the drips coming through the roof. Judas had apologised about the leaks
as he climbed on his mountain bike. He told Roger the collection for a new roof had raised £6.66p in six years. The Blessed Mary must have known the new church was coming, he explained. Roger stood in a deep puddle at the front door and waved goodbye to his friend. He was
glad he'd remembered his green wellingtons that morning. He watched until the priest turned the corner at the bottom of the road and then sauntered back inside. He loved the church but he’d been annoyed when the Bishop had forced Father Judas to sell the stained-glass windows to a travelling Irish circus. The boarded-up holes left the place dark and dismal. So he'd spent ages trying to find someone who sold thirty-foot, pointed, double-glazed windows. But he was unsuccessful. He'd put his mobile phone down on the pew beside him and stared at the empty space where the statue of Mary and the boy child had stood.
"I know who I'd like a one-to-one with,"
his voice echoed around the vast cold building. The following months had been, on the whole, pretty mundane, apart from the odd drug addict looking for Father Judas, and short-sighted nuns on city
Soon Roger came to the conclusion that he wasn't happy at the Shining Cross. That was when he began to frequent estate agent's offices. Within a week he'd spotted the 'Wet Hole' advert and
put in his offer. The following day his bid had been accepted and he put 'Our Ladies' church on the market. Considering its history, and what it was, it sold within days. The estate agent said he'd received an anonymous bid from the Middle East. Whoever it was, had transferred the money into his bank account pending acceptance. Roger had been overjoyed. He'd signed the papers and here he was, ten days later, on Jacob's Island.
'The Wet Hole' was a low rectangular building with a scruffy thatched roof. Long irregular strands of straw hung over the guttering obscuring the rusty drainpipes. The outside walls had been white at one time, but were now a dirty grey, black streaks snaked down the wall every few inches. The drawn curtains made it impossible to see in. Above the solid oak door, was a metal bar and a
sign with the pub's name on. Roger hadn't taken any notice of the outside when he'd arrived. Once inside he'd thrown his case in the kitchen and poured himself a pint. It went down a treat. After another pint he'd turned his attention to the top shelf. He'd filled a half-pint glass
with vodka, and slowly drank until the bottle was empty. By the end of his first week in the Wet Hole he was drinking a lot, and was drunk most of the time. Although he was alone on the island, he
always unlocked the front door of the pub at eleven o clock every day, just in case someone came and wanted a drink.
One particular night, about a fortnight before the end of the year, he heard a knock at the door. He staggered over and lifted the huge metal latch and pulled it open. Standing outside was a tall thin man with a full beard. He was wearing a dark green skull cap and, balanced on the end of his nose, was a pair of wire-framed glasses. Heavily pregnant, beside him, was a woman with a yashmak
over her face. She was holding a bulging, battered leather suitcase. Slowly Roger's eyes focused on the couple.
"Where did you come from?" he asked.
"We're looking for a room for the night." the man said, ignoring Roger's question.
"This is a pub, I haven't got any rooms."
"Anything will do. My wife needs to rest for a while. You must have something?"
Roger took a sip from his glass and thought for a moment.
"There's only the cellar where I keep the empties. But it's bloody freezing down there of a night."
"That will do," the man replied. "We'll pay of course. Just show us the way please."
The man followed Roger, and the woman staggered along behind with the suitcase. Roger stopped at the bar.
"I'll have to light a candle. There isn't any electricity down there. The man nodded and turned to the woman.
"No electricity," he said. The yashmak fluttered as she sighed.
Roger melted some wax from the candle onto a plastic crate. The flickering light made their shadows dance in grotesque movements over the mould-infested walls.
"This is it then," he said. "You'll have to do the best you can. I haven't got any beds or anything."
The woman dropped case down, and putting her hands on her hips, stretched. The man called out.
"Thank You." to Roger's retreating back.
As he climbed the stone steps, Roger heard the man say,
"Are you ever going to tell me who did this to you?"
He continued to the bar, and filled his glass, gulping a large mouthful. He took another, and then guided the glass with both hands back onto the table. He closed his eyes, squeezing
them till it hurt, then opened them. He looked round, the room was still the same.
Had he just imagined the pregnant woman and her friend? He listened. But all he could hear was the gentle hum of the cooler from behind the bar. He decided he was dreaming and had drunk
too much, and it was time for bed. Just then the door burst open behind him. Framed in the doorway was a man wearing a long cloak with a high collar pulled down, almost covering his eyes, was a woollen cheese-cutter. His thigh-length, Dick Turpin boots, glistened, and light seemed to twinkle in them as if they were made of glass. In an instant, he took hold of his cloak and flung it open, revealing a bright red toastmaster's jacket with gold buttons.
"Where is the child?" the man sang.
Roger studied the liquid in his glass. Bloody good stuff this is, he thought to himself.
"Through that door and down the steps mate," he said, and began to laugh.
As the cloak swept past him Roger called,
"By the way, what's your name?" The hollow reply drifted through the open door,
Roger tittered, Philip or Charles? He staggered to the door and looked out into the jet-black night. He couldn't see anything unusual, until he looked up to the heavens. Piercing the blackness was a brilliant star-shaped light, sitting motionless above the pub, Roger rubbed his eyes and looked again. It was still there. That's bloody queer he thought, and staggered back to the bar for another refill. He'd just squeezed the liquid past his tonsils when he felt a blast of cold air. When he turned this time there were two figures standing just inside the door. They were both dressed from head to foot in pink cloaks with gold braid along the edges. There were slits on the faces where the eyes should be, but all Roger could see was tiny lights twinkling inside. Each figure carried what looked like blue cardboard file covers under their arms.
"Show me where he is?" the taller of the two said. Roger leaned back and supported himself with both elbows on the bar.
"Now just a minute. First of all who are you?" For a split second the twinkling lights in the slits
burned brighter, then the other figure said.
"My name's Prince and he's Czar. We need to know where the baby is?" Roger tried to focus his eyes on the slits.
"There ain't no baby," he said. "Only a pregnant woman down the cellar." Before Roger could say any more, the two figures had rushed past him and down the cellar steps.
From being convinced he was dreaming, Roger began to doubt his sanity. He knew he was on this island alone. The only time people came was when the boat arrived from the mainland with the post and his beer order, and that wasn't due for another week yet. He looked at his empty glass and the half-full bottle clipped in the optic. Maybe another drink would sort it or should I have a large black
coffee, he argued with himself. The best thing to do, he decided, was to go down the cellar and make sure it was empty and then go to bed. He lit another candle and tracing along the wall with his hand he followed his dancing shadow down the cellar steps.
It was 250 years before Pope Peter the 89th conferred a Sainthood on Roger Loxley. The
immaculate order of Nuns of the red waistcoat had campaigned strongly for the honour.
They'd got their way after an uproar over a similar honour being given to an ancient football manager, Alex Ferguson. They argued, with some justification, that Roger Loxley was the man who gave shelter to the second Messiah's mother. To placate the Nuns, Pope Peter had journeyed to Jacob's Island on a pilgrimage. He then conducted the ceremony of bestowing the Sainthood at the
shrine to Roger Loxley, The Wet Hole.