Saturday 14th February 2017
There was a terrifying screech of metal on tarmac as the overturned car skidded along the road, sparks flying out behind it. Then, as the car finally came to a stop, the screeching was replaced by the rhythmic thrumming of a wheel spinning uselessly, until finally there was just eerie silence, punctuated only by the metallic ticking as the hot engine and exhaust pipe began to cool.
To his great surprise, he seemed to be unhurt, but the car was upside down, which meant he was hanging upside down from the driver’s seat, held by his seat belt. His head had been protected from the road surface by the roll-over bars which had recently been fitted for precisely this scenario. A 1960s open-topped sports car was a beautiful thing to drive, but safety had never been a significant feature back in those days.
He became aware of a faint splashing sound, and the sudden whiff of petrol was enough to rouse him into action. After a brief struggle he managed to release the seat belt, and with the extra strength his fear had generated, he lowered himself to the road.
In the darkness, he could barely make out his passenger, but she had not been wearing a seat belt, so he was in no doubt she must be dead. It had never been his intention for anything like this to happen, and he suffered a moment of panic wondering how he was going to explain it, but then he had an idea. Sad as it may seem for someone so young to lose their life, this outcome might prove to be for the best. With any luck, he could manipulate the situation to hide his involvement.
He crawled out through the gaping hole where the door had been, his gloved hands protecting him from the debris of the shattered windscreen, then turned and crawled back inside, just far enough to enable him to reach the girl. For one final time, and in entirely different circumstances to usual, he appreciated her diminutive size, which helped him to quickly manoeuvre her small body across from the passenger side, as he backed out again.
He decided he didn’t need to be too fussy; with petrol leaking, it was likely the car would catch fire and when that happened there wouldn’t be much left of her, or the car. A few seconds later she was positioned on the driver’s side, and he took a moment to sit back and admire his handiwork and ingenuity. As he did so, there was a familiar “ping” as her mobile phone gave notification of a message received. After a hasty search of her coat pockets, he found the phone and then scuttled away from the car.
Fifty yards away under the solitary street light that lit up this part of the road, he stopped to check the phone. He removed the battery and threw it as far as he could towards the distant trees, then put the rest of the phone back together, turned around, and threw it as far as he could in the other direction.
Then he started to run towards the woods on the other side of the road…
Dave Slater leaned back, balanced on the back legs of his chair, took careful aim at the wastepaper basket and launched the sheet of paper he had just scrunched into a ball. The missile bounced on the edge of the basket and joined the twenty-two others scattered across the floor.
‘This is ridiculous,’ he said.
Norman tore his eyes away from the small TV they were watching and stared at the rubbish all over the floor.
‘I don’t understand how you can be so good at darts, and yet be complete crap at getting a ball of paper into a bin.’
‘It’s my superpower,’ said Slater. He took his feet from the desk and dropped his chair back onto all four legs.
‘We could always play darts,’ suggested Norman.
‘No offence, Norm, but beating you over, and over, is every bit as boring as watching those crappy daytime TV repeats.’
Norman turned back to his TV show.
‘Look,’ said Slater, ‘I know you don’t want to talk about it, Norm, but we can’t put it off any longer.’
Norman sighed and aimed the remote control at the TV, clicked the button, and watched as the picture shrank into the centre and then disappeared. He tossed the remote onto his desk and turned to face Slater.
‘I know you’re right,’ he said, gloomily. ‘I just keep hoping someone’s going to walk in that door with an outstanding job, and that’ll be the one that gets the ball rolling, you know?’
‘I know, mate,’ said Slater, ‘and I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out the way we wanted, but we have to face facts and be realistic.’
‘How long has it been now?’
‘Two weeks and three days since our last job. I don’t know about you, but if we’re going to sit around doing nothing I’d rather do it at home and not have to pay for this place.’
Norman sighed again.
‘I was sure those adverts, on the back of that story in the newspaper, would bring some work in,’ he said.
‘Yeah, well, we’ll have to put that down to experience,’ said Slater. ‘I think, if we’re honest, it was always going to be a risk trying to find enough work in a small town like this.’
Norman cast an eye around the office.
‘What are we going to do with all this stuff?’
‘I dunno,’ said Slater. ‘I don’t want any of it except my laptop. Maybe we can sell it. Anyway, we can decide that later.’ He stood up. ‘Come on, get your backside off that chair. Let’s go down the pub and celebrate.’
‘Finally opening our eyes to the truth, and admitting defeat.’
Norman got slowly to his feet. He appreciated Slater was trying to cheer him up, but he didn’t feel they had anything to celebrate.
‘Should we be celebrating defeat?’ he asked.
‘Maybe you’re right,’ said Slater, heading for the door. ‘So let’s celebrate something more positive, like making a decision. Of course, you can always stay here and be miserable if you prefer.’
Norman was finding it difficult to find anything to be cheerful about, but there again, he wasn’t going to refuse a free lunch. He jumped to his feet and scuttled after Slater.
Slater jumped into his car, started the engine and pressed the button to lower his window.
‘Let’s get some fresh air circulating through here,’ he said. ‘Maybe it will wake us up.’
As he drove slowly towards the car park exit, a car turned off the road and into the car park. He pulled over to the left and stopped to allow the car into the car park, but instead of driving past it stopped alongside him, the driver’s window slid downwards, and a worried-looking woman stared uncertainly at him.
‘Can I help you? You look a little lost.’
‘I’m not sure I’m in the right place,’ she said. ‘I’m supposed to be looking for some detectives.’
Slater couldn’t hide the surprise on his face.
‘Yes,’ she said, mistaking his reason for surprise. Then, taking a quick look at her surrounding, ‘But this isn’t exactly the sort of place you’d find a detective is it?’
‘Actually, it is,’ said Slater, grinning widely, ‘and you’ve found them.’
‘Slater and Norman at your service.’
‘Really? Thank goodness,’ she said, flustered. ‘I need your help.’
‘It’ll be a lot easier to talk in our office,’ said Slater. ‘Follow me.’
He slipped his car into reverse and carefully made his way back to the space he had vacated just two minutes before.
‘How weird is that?’ said Norman. ‘Another minute and we would have missed her.’
‘Yeah, it was lucky, wasn’t it?’
‘Maybe it’s fate. Perhaps she’s the one we’ve been waiting for.’
Slater rolled his eyes.
‘Yeah, right,’ he said, slipping from the car.
The woman followed and parked next to them.
Slater left Norman to escort her into the office while he went on ahead and unlocked the doors.